Courtesy Santa Fe Institute

The Santa Fe Institute, situated in the hills above Santa Fe, N.M.
Even its interior design serves the unusual purpose of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI). At the top of a winding drive on the outskirts of the New Mexico capital that calls itself "the city different," SFI occupies a 1950s hacienda defined by three descending "pods." First is reception and administration. Second is a community area, full of comfortable furniture, with big views of the city and mountains. Centerpiece of this second pod is an inner courtyard, where the approximately 200 scientists from throughout the world who visit each year can meet for sumptuous, British-style teas. Around the courtyard are conference rooms. The third pod, in the back, is a warren of small offices. Progress from reception to the offices therefore requires passage through the community pod, where the chances of overhearing a conversation or...

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