Molecular branding: Designing to support innovation in cancer therapies

April 24, 2018 Heidi Dunn

New biopharmaceutical facility is not your typical Silicon Valley office—and the company’s mission drove design choices 


Later this month, one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies, Bristol-Myers Squibb, will open the newest addition to its biologics discovery campus in Redwood City, Calif. I’ve spent four years with the design team and the client developing these world class cancer immunotherapy facilities.

Seeing a facility that will play a part in saving lives come to life is inspirational.


Designing to save lives

This facility houses approximately 100 research scientists and those who support them. We worked to implement open workplace standards and create a shift in the culture of how they work. Their team was traditionally accustomed to private offices. We helped introduce them to an open plan and made design decisions that would help guide the comfort level through planning and finish selections. One way was by providing workstations around the perimeter of the building with lots of natural light, which isn’t hard to find in California.


The main circulation corridor at the new Bristol-Myers Squibb facility in Redwood City, Calif.


We placed the huddle rooms and conference rooms internally that helped to create separation from the main circulation and give the users a place to go for private conversations. Another design feature in the office space are the “caves,” where users can go between those busy hours in the lab. There are three caves that line the main circulation area and help activate the corridor. The design intent was for a “watercooler” area. Our client wanted a place where the workers could gather and just talk about their weekend, show vacation photos, sip coffee, or take a phone call.

_q_tweetable:The client particularly wanted something mature, to set them apart from Silicon Valley’s surrounding tech companies._q_Our overall aesthetic charge was to create a timeless, classic design. The client particularly wanted something mature, to set them apart from Silicon Valley’s surrounding tech companies. We addressed this by using a sophisticated, natural palate that better reflected a California aesthetic. Warm woods, textural fabrics, and simple modern furniture set the tone. Also, color at strategic areas signals importance or aids in wayfinding.

Sometimes, simple design choices can make great impact and tell multiple stories. I always like to keep things local and find finishes that tell a story. I chose reclaimed wood from local San Francisco Transbay Terminal to use as table tops in the breakroom and a custom curved bench in the building’s main lobby. We used the same wood in the adjacent building that helps to connect the main lobbies of the campus. The Douglas fir logs from the 1930s terminal foundation pilings now add a beautiful history to this modern medical facility. The pilings were unearthed in 2008 when a new building broke ground at the Transbay Terminal site. To me, the subtle connection between digging for cancer solutions and digging up this reclaimed wood is the perfect blending of past, present, and future.    

By design, the labs are bright, light, and open. One of the key design features was to add glass strategically into labs that provided a connection from the main corridors of the office. You can be in the office, and see into the labs, and beyond to the outside. This is rare in pharmaceutical research facilities. It helps to tie together all functions of the building with one design move.


Design on the molecular level

Branding plays a key role in many of the workplaces and spaces we design. A company’s brand is more than just their logo. It is who they are. It sets them apart from their competitors.


Innovation is key to the work done at the cancer immunotherapy facility. Part of the branding includes the graphic representation of small molecules and antibodies that represent the drug portfolio, along with the word "Innovation."


When we first approached our client regarding branding their space, it became clear that finding a way to reflect the research that happens on this campus was important to them. Ultimately, they are focused on innovation in cancer therapies. Over the course of a six-month design process and working closely with their in-house drug renderer (Yes, they have one of these, how cool is that?) we developed a truly unique branding for this new facility. The biopharmaceutical company’s innovation was reflected in a graphic pattern of small molecules and antibodies that represent the drug portfolio for 2018. It was printed on an PVC free wall-covering. Tone-on-tone raised acrylic letters spell out “Innovation.”

We’ve already heard from the employees that they feel a sense of pride when they see this wall—pride that they created these life-saving drugs that are on display in unique branding locations throughout the facility.  


One of the "caves" that line the main circulation area in the new Redwood City, Calif., facility. The client wanted a place where workers could gather and talk about their weekend, show vacation photos, sip coffee, or take a phone call.


The daily innovation

For this client, their daily challenge is innovation. That’s what it takes to fight cancer and give patients hope for the future.

Knowing what the employees face every day, it’s been a joy seeing this critical facility come together and how the employees are using it and their happiness in the space. As an interior designer, I, too, want to do innovative work—on a different level, of course. Having a client trust me—and Stantec—to design for them, to come back to me for another project, and to continue to tell their story of innovation is rewarding.



About the Author

Heidi Dunn

Passionate and professional, Heidi Dunn thrives off fast-paced projects and satisfying client relationships. Heidi moved from Philadelphia in 2013 to start her first hospitality project in San Francisco. Converting an assisted living facility into a 138-room hotel was not without its challenges, but having Marriott showcase photos of her work is one of the most rewarding experiences of Heidi’s professional career.

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