Education Development Center

View of Johannesburg

The client:

The Education Development Center (EDC) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing learning and promoting health around the world. Started by a group of MIT professors during the Sputnik era, the EDC today employs about 1,700 people around the world.

The challenge:

As EDC’s headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts, grew over time in a leased old mill building, each new sublet became a cozy, quirky, crowded enclave. Staff would not see each other regularly and assume that others were out of the country.

Within a larger new space (also a former mill building) the design team needed to create connectivity between groups yet maintain the identity of each. The new space had to keep the staff happy and help them to stay productive. It was a significant challenge to get 400 dedicated, highly educated researchers to embrace a more open work environment.

The design team also had to work with limited funds for renovation.

The solutions:

In the larger space, there was ample opportunity to create more open, coherent workspace. The design team designed neighborhoods that replicated the intimate vibe of the old space while adding opportunities for staff to interact with additional programming and strategic circulation paths.

Each of the two floors has a circulation theme: the Piazza and Broadway. The Piazza recalls open community spaces in older European cities, in which gathering areas spilled into and between buildings. On the first floor of the EDC, communal areas are woven together with freestanding and enclosed conference and work rooms. Broadway, a reference to the main street in many towns, is a wide path of circulation that cuts across the floor and terminates at glazed meeting rooms. The new stair, with a wall of reclaimed wood, links the two floors and provides visual connectivity.

The design team carefully considered the proportion of open to closed workspaces and how each space should be defined. They determined that there were to be no enclosed workspaces along the window walls and the assignment of workspaces for staff had clear functional criteria.Strategic lighting and acoustical treatments mitigated most concerns about the ability to conduct research in a more open environment.

The rich color palette and materials were inspired by photographs of beautiful locations around the world in which EDC works. Subtle graphics on the conference room window walls both illustrate what EDC does and provide a degree of opacity for those working in the spaces.

The space was designed following sustainability guidelines—also keeping with EDC’s mission.

The results:

The new space has impacted how EDC staff members work together, and even influenced their organizational culture. The design encourages staff to meet, discuss, and forge new alliances, and, as a result, more staff are choosing to work in the headquarters rather than at home. The informal meeting spaces and glass walled conference rooms and have created a more energized, collaborative work environment.

Joanne P. Brady, senior vice president and director of the Learning and Teaching Division, shared, “I have seen people in my division that I have never seen before. I also hear people talk about hosting meetings here in a more enthusiastic way.”

The heightened design sensibility has contributed to a greater sense of pride. “The colors, the fabric, the bright lights, and spacious hallways all add to a feeling of: ‘The work we do is important, as are all of the people who carry it out,’” said Joanne.

With Sasaki Associates and Taylor & Burns Architects

Robert Benson Photography