Building a Better Business School

Business school architecture of the 21st century has undergone a renaissance, one in which facilities are defined by large, open areas that encourage interaction, teamwork, and a sense of community.
Building a Better Business School

The atrium area of Jerry S. Rawls Hall has been cited for excellence in the design of educational facilities. Architectural Portfolio stated the building’s “center space will be inspiring and at the heart of the school.”

Gone are the days of the “big-box” educational facilities with their carefully partitioned classrooms, hidden lounges, and enclosed hallways. No longer are schools constructing the high-concept, often ergonomically challenged concrete and glass structures of the mid-20th century. Although these styles served their times, times, to be certain, have changed. In an age where business is defined by teamwork and hands-on learning, it makes sense that the architecture of business schools would follow suit.

Whether a business school is building a new facility from the ground up or renovating an old facility, the resulting structure must create an environment that suits its mission, expresses its personality and serves the needs of its students. Achieving this goal often takes some thorough, collective soul-searching, says Alan Chimacoff, an architect with The Hillier Group with offices in Princeton, New Jersey. The Hillier Group specializes in design of facilities for higher education institutions.

“Business schools have their own personal views of their communities and of how they want the community to be and work. It’s important to get deeply into their psyches about what their collective social needs are,” he explains. “Social needs today are increasingly being equated with educational needs, because so much of what happens educationally is happening collectively.”

Current trends in business school architecture reflect a world in which the Internet and wireless technologies have made us a more interactive society. To better inhabit and serve that world, modern business schools are being constructed with five important “C’s” in mind: collaboration, connectivity, comfort, convenience, and, most important, community.

A Culture of Learning

When Purdue University’s Krannert Graduate School of Management, West Lafayette, Indiana, found itself quickly running short of space, a new, larger facility became a necessity. However, the need for a new facility turned into the perfect opportunity to create a space that was substantially more “user-friendly” than the old.

Construction of the state-of-the-art Jerry S. Rawls Hall at the Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management began in fall 2001. The 128,000-square-foot building will be ready for occupancy in the fall 2003 semester.

“Our old building was very traditional, with isolated classrooms and floors separated from one another,” explains the school’s dean, Richard Cosier. “We wanted to make sure that the new building would be more open, to encourage more teamwork and collaboration. We wanted to build a culture and community within our business program.”

For Cosier, like many of his colleagues, building a community within a facility’s design has become a top priority. “Collaborative spaces, such as executive suites and lounges, breakout rooms, and places where groups of individuals can work together on projects, have become very important in business school architecture,” says Chimacoff. “I think less and less work is being done individually in business schools, and many more projects are based on teamwork. That is affecting business school design.”

Collaborative areas were at the top of the list of priorities for Jaime Alonso Gómez, director of the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey’s Graduate School of Business and Leadership in Monterrey, Mexico. Gómez also placed collaborative areas on the top of ITESM’s list of priorities in the design of its new facility. The facility, which was inaugurated in May 2001, has 20 collaborative workrooms, a 300-seat auditorium, and a cafeteria equipped with the same wireless networks that run throughout the rest of the school.

Because of the new emphasis on collaboration, features that would have been considered gratuitous in the past are now top priorities for many business school deans and administrators.

“We wanted its design to be oriented, not to teaching, but to learning,” comments Gómez. “We wanted areas to encourage Socratic dialogues and debate, and to foster human interaction inside the building and with the rest of the world via video conferences and Internet ports. And we made sure the students would be electronically connected to sources of information.”

Because of the new emphasis on collaboration, features that would have been considered gratuitous in the past are now top priorities for many business school deans and administrators. Areas for socializing and food courts, and copious amounts of light have become key factors in creating an ideal atmosphere for learning.

“Our No. 1 priority was light,” says Jean-Marie Toulouse, director of Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales de Montreal, Montreal, Canada. HEC-Montreal moved into its new facility in 1996. “Our old building, which we were in from 1970 to 1996, was built at a time when daylight was considered disruptive to concentration. As a result, the windows were made as small as possible; offices without any windows at all were not thought to be a problem.”

The many windows that grace the façade of HEC-Montreal reflect the school’s intention to infuse its interior with light.

The school’s new building has a plethora of windows; not only that, but they can be opened, a feature that engineers working on the project staunchly opposed, says Toulouse. If windows in individual offices could be opened and closed, the engineers argued, it would cause problems with condensation and wreak havoc on central heating and cooling. The solution: to make room in the budget for a special air circulation system to regulate each room individually, says Toulouse. “It was a bit more expensive,” he says, “but it provided more convenience and made the space more comfortable for everyone.”

With a sense of community in mind, many architects have constructed business schools in the last five years to include one prominent feature: a central courtyard or atrium. Once thought to promote idleness, such a central area is now considered essential to learning, as a place where students can study and exchange ideas.

With a sense of community in mind, many architects are designing business schools that make a central courtyard or atrium a prominent feature.

“It’s very important that we have a central place,” says Toulouse of HEC-Montreal, whose facility boasts an atrium with open meeting areas and a vaulted, glass ceiling. “Old European cities always had a central place where people could talk, meet, or read. So the architects created a similar place for our building. If we had to do it again, we’d make it larger.”

The historic features of Sage Hall, home of Cornell University, Johnson School of Management, were preserved. However, its renovated interior was updated to feature open areas where students can gather and study.

In fact, the architects’ only miscalculation, says Toulouse, was in underestimating just how much students would use the atrium area. “Three weeks after we moved into the building, we were short of chairs and we didn’t know why. What we discovered was that the architects assumed that the students would come into the central area, but not stay very long. What happens is that they sit, drink coffee, study, and talk. So, we doubled the number of chairs.”

Vending machines, cafeterias, and kitchens are also new elements to business school design, says Joe Tattoni, also of The Hillier Group. “Business schools are becoming more like architecture schools and medical schools. People are now working around the clock on projects, so there has to be food available.”

The atrium in the middle of Sage Hall, shown above and at right, has a glass ceiling as its focal point.

For its part, Krannert’s new $35 million space, named Jerry S. Rawls Hall after the principal donor to the project, is in the construction phase and should be completed by fall of 2003. In its design, says Cosier, “We have more than 30 breakout rooms to accommodate team building. In addition, there will be an interior atrium, vending machines, and kitchen facilities. I think students need to have an open, comfortable environment. This has become more important than ever, as we want to build a culture, as well as a school.”

An Eye on the Future

With the boom in business school education expected to continue and the changes in technology occurring at a rapid pace, new business schools are designed for the needs of the present, but always with an eye on the future. “There is always a need to have a little more space and accommodate growth,” says Cosier. “Once we have the building in place, we would like to add another 50 to 100 students to our MBA program. So, we’ve tried to make sure that we did not skimp on office and meeting space in the building. And we tried to make sure that whatever technology came down the path in the future, we’d be prepared to add it.”

“We will see more and more business schools creating joint programs with other schools. There will be more faculty teaching outside the business school and more nonfaculty teaching inside the school,” says Alan Merten.

Bob Stundtner, a project manager at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, worked on the renovation of historic Sage Hall, the new home for the Johnson Graduate School of Management since 1998. While the building’s history was preserved, he explains, the building also had to be able to evolve to meet the school’s future needs. “We preserved the colors and patterns of the building’s original design, but included high-speed copper data systems, as well as fiber optics to be able to handle the next generation of data capacities.”

In addition to technology and the size of the student body, administrators must also consider the new ways a business school must foster human interaction, says Alan Merten. The former dean of the Johnson Graduate School ofManagement, Merten supervised the planning phase of Sage Hall’s renovation (see “Turning Obstacles into Opportunity,” facing page). He is now the president of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

“Connectivity has become more important. We will see more and more business schools creating joint programs with other schools. There will be more faculty teaching outside the business school and more nonfaculty teaching inside the school,” Merten asserts. “Business schools are adding more new programs integrated with other entities— the Johnson School, for example, now has a 12-month MBA with students from science and engineering.” New business school buildings, he says, must accommodate a new level of integration as well as a continuous rotation of occupants.

No matter how external factors affect the process, building a new facility is an exciting time for a business school. The collective decision-making of students, faculty, staff, and alumni epitomizes the very act of community that schools seek to foster in the design of a school’s new residence. While each business school’s design is unique, trends in business school architecture reflect a common future for management education institutions, one that promises to grow only more connected.