Every building has spaces along the edges where people are already naturally gravitating. (The scientific term is thigmotaxis.) We find safety and refuge along the margins. Typically used as a place to check email and text, these places have a high potential for serendipitous discovery and creative collaboration.
As Ann Susan and Justin Hollander write in Cognitive Architecture, “People avoid the center of open spaces and tend to stick to the sides of streets, even in car-free zones. Scientists believe it is “a survival and orientation strategy.” The authors cite English geographer Jay Appleton, who proposed the prospect-refuge theory, which “describes how people are drawn to edges to protect their backs, and also seek safe spots to take in broad landscape vistas.” Thigmotaxis is “not only triggered when we take in vistas outdoors,” but also “when newcomers arrive at a party or first enter an empty restaurant and instinctively stand at the edge for a while to take in the scene, and then select a seat at the periphery. Anecdotally, it is rare to find someone seated in the center of an empty restaurant; they will usually dine more comfortably off to one side.” 
Why prioritize serendipitous collaboration?
People already gravitate toward the edges for safety—making this an ideal time and place for them to engage in open-ended creativity and collaboration. In doing so, an organization can:
1. Accelerate innovation.
Creativity depends not just on structured access to knowledge, but on serendipitous discoveries outside of one’s narrow field of expertise. Researchers believe that the most important characteristic of high performers is their willingness to go outside of their own areas. Even amongst specialists, the top performers have a habit of expertly linking together related concepts and sources beyond their immediate domain. Knowing that high performance depends on connecting and collaborating, there is no need to fill the edges of a physical space with display screens. Designing the edges for serendipity means you’re looking to enable people to spontaneously convene for creativity (and not just meeting and eating).
2. Inspire and attract top talent to a conservative industry.
Many industries are, by nature of their domains, unable to embrace rapid innovation. When a conservative organization facilitates its edges for serendipity and creativity, top talent are exposed to a stimulating environment of receptiveness to new ideas.
“Certain environments have a greater density of interaction and provide more excitement and a greater effervescence of ideas; therefore they prompt the person who is already included to break away from conventions to experiment with novelty more readily.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Creativity
Evaluating features that activate the edges:
Make it easy and rewarding for people to go “outside their department” for knowledge, information, and feedback by creating a hook for them to do so— a clear goal that is small and therefore achievable, that anyone has time to do, and that everyone will want to do.
As you evaluate the options to incorporate in the edges of your space, watch out for anything that ignores the hands/eyes, turns into a passive observation, and does not invite people to spontaneously interact with each other.
The Everbright is designed, engineered, and individually fabricated by Hero Design LLC