The School, The Mission, The Building

A new facility should be designed to build a business school’s reputation, reflect its values, and align with its mission.
The School, The Mission, The Building

In the past ten years, about 85 AACSB members have built new facilities or renovated existing spaces, and another 20 or so are currently in the construction or planning stages. It’s not surprising that some observers believe there’s a “facilities arms race” among business schools seeking to draw attention to their programs, because each impressive new facility that’s commissioned by one school raises the stakes for others. Yet the race shows no sign of slowing; administrators understand that students and faculty alike are attracted to state-of-the-art facilities that offer impressive services and ideal spaces for learning.
As a principal with the architectural firm Perkins+Will, I have been closely involved in strategic planning and design of 18 schools of business. I believe that human and physical resources collectively lead to the success of any project and that three key elements must be in place when schools consider investing in a new facility:

Understanding: The faculty and administration must have a comprehensive understanding of the school’s brand position and its place in the market.

Awareness: The administration must actively support necessary changes in areas that range from pedagogy to organizational structure to brand to curriculum.

Willingness: Stakeholders at all levels of the university must be prepared to implement changes, which might cause uneasiness and present challenges, but which also bring opportunity.

I’m an active proponent of green construction, and I believe it should be considered by all schools whose missions align with sustainability—but I believe the school’s mission is what will shape the construction of any new building. For that reason, when I first meet with deans and administrators regarding any need for change in their physical space, I ask several important questions: What is your school’s mission? What are your school’s values? And how can these be expressed in your new or re-purposed facilities?

Defining the Space

Once a school has committed to constructing or renovating its facilities, its first challenge is to determine its needs. Generally speaking, schools must consider three fundamentally different kinds of activities that serve different imperatives and require different types of spaces:

Delivering courses. Executive education programs, graduate programs, and undergraduate programs often require different sets of rooms, configurations, and physical resources. Most schools also require other academic spaces, such as specialty labs, team or breakout rooms, and research and computer simulation labs.

Supporting students, faculty, and staff. The spaces for these functions usually include small meeting rooms, spacious suites, and large common areas; they might serve academic advisors, career placement counselors, and student organizations. Other typical areas include student lounges, professional development areas, food service stations, conferencing areas, and centers for new initiatives.

Enabling community outreach. To maintain close relationships with the external business community, the parent university, and alumni, schools need a variety of spaces. These might include assembly areas for conferences and guest lectures, programmable atriums, offices for guest and executive faculty, outreach centers, incubators, boardrooms, and specialty food service stations.

Sometimes the creation of these different spaces can be an ongoing project that takes a very long time. More than ten years ago, we began a long-range plan to redesign the facilities for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina. The three phases of construction—the last of which was recently completed—reflect different goals of the school. Phase I, which resulted in the Magat Academic Center, addressed the immediate needs of office space for faculty, staff, and admissions personnel. Phase II, the Fox Student Center, established a strong public presence and became a community focus for the school. And Phase III, the Keller Center and Ford Library, provided instructional space, team rooms, and resources.

Gathering the Team

To determine how the new building design will meet its varied needs, the school must have the input and consensus of multiple stakeholders at all levels of the university. A steering committee should be formed to guide day-to-day project activities, define programmatic space needs, and identify critical relationships among departments. Members of the committee should include business school leaders, such as deans, associate deans, department chairs, and program directors; campus leaders, such as the heads of university finance, campus planning, facilities, and technology; and students, who will be the primary users of the new spaces.

Some schools also choose to form an executive committee that consists of the dean, other senior members of the university administration, and external business leaders, such as members of the school’s advisory committees. This group ensures that the proposed building design conforms to the school’s physical layout, architectural aesthetic, academic master plan, and place in a competitive market.

It will be the responsibility of the steering committee to engage the architectural firm that will design the building. Committee members first will need to answer critical questions about why they want a new or renovated facility. Are we looking for an iconic space that will be instantly identifiable? That might lead the institution to engage a world-renowned design firm. Do we want a firm that is familiar with the overall business school context? In that case, the school might look for firms that have done work for peer institutions. Do we want an architect who is already familiar with our campus and understands our overall aesthetic? If so, the committee might choose a firm that has designed buildings for the parent university.

Because schools will be spending months, perhaps years, with the architects they hire, they should make sure the firm is a good match for them. It’s critical that members of the steering committee feel confidence in the architects and develop a comfortable working relationship with the design team.

Once a firm has been chosen, it’s the architect’s turn to elicit information from the steering committee. The firm should be interested in aspects of the school that directly correlate to the school’s mission—aspects that go beyond aesthetics, imagery, or architectural expression. Therefore, the architects might ask questions that clarify the school’s identity: What is the signature program that will be the foundation of the school’s brand? What special focuses do you rely on to set you apart from your competition? Does your region or your market support any special programming?

Other questions might zero in on the relationships among the school, the university, and the larger community. What role does the business school play in the growth strategy of the university? How do b-school programs serve the surrounding business community? How will new initiatives and school growth be supported by the university’s resources in faculty, staff, technology, and physical space?

Three schools that we have worked with—the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, the Stern School at New York University, and the Labovitz School of Business at the University of Minnesota Duluth—were all focused on using their buildings to establish a brand and assert their places in the market. In all of these projects, we discussed how the school’s graduate and undergraduate programs were ranked and how new or updated facilities would enhance each program’s stature. Yet each one had different ultimate goals.

When I first meet with deans and administrators regarding any need for change in their physical space, I ask several important questions: “What is your school’s mission? What are your school’s values? And how can these be expressed in your new or re-purposed facilities?”

With the Haas School, the emphasis was on building community within the school. At Stern, work focused on reinventing spaces to support the undergraduate program while simultaneously re-branding the school as a premier institution within the physical context of New York City. At the Labovitz School, which had recently received a naming gift, the goal of the new building was to help position the undergraduate program as a top option within the region. The new building represented the Labovitz School’s physical commitment to its program.

Adding the Green Element

For many business schools, one purpose of constructing a new building is to make a tangible commitment to the principles of sustainable business. Leaders at these schools know that sustainability impacts all aspects of corporate policy, from supply chain management to marketing to retailing across the globe. And they believe that students should learn these crucial elements while studying business within a building that has been sustainably designed.

Therefore, some schools are commissioning buildings that will be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council at silver, gold and platinum levels for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). This means the buildings will meet strict standards for energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources.

At other schools, the steering committees are highly intrigued by the notion of sustainable design, but they know they might have difficulty convincing key stakeholders of the benefits of a green building. It helps if they can point to advantages in several key areas.

Productivity. While a healthy indoor environment can have a significant effect on the people who use a building, productivity improvements are notoriously difficult to measure. One way to estimate them is through evidence-based design techniques. For instance, steering committees can reference government studies that show how design solutions, such as increased access to daylight, increase productivity. Then they can correlate the expense of those elements to the expected cost savings to estimate the bottom-line value of sustainable design. Because many stakeholders will still be skeptical, committee members might keep expectations for increased productivity low. Even so, they will typically see a strong return.

Recruitment and retention. Potential students—those Millennials who are committed to environmental causes—might be favorably impressed by a business school’s new green building. The open spaces and fresh indoor air might be invigorating enough to keep faculty from moving to new jobs. Again, these benefits are difficult to quantify. But it’s likely that business schools will see a substantial return on investment if a sustainable business design allows them to recruit a single premier faculty member or realize a 5 percent increase in enrollment.

In fact, the chances are good that students will be drawn to green buildings, since many of today’s business students are in the forefront of sustainability efforts at universities. When Perkins+Will produced strategic and programming plans for Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, we relied heavily on input from students, particularly those from the Kellogg Greening Initiaives Team. Worldwide, we have seen Net Impact students focus on sustainability as one of their leadership goals. These committed and engaged students are very likely to consider a building’s sustainability level when they’re deciding what schools to attend.

Externalities. Sustainable schools use fewer fossil fuels, so one direct benefit is that their energy costs are lower and they save money. But there’s an indirect benefit too: They also emit fewer carbons, and the media has made the public very aware of the benefits associated with low carbon emissions. Therefore, a green building creates goodwill in the community, and that goodwill increases student retention and builds social capital.

Sustainable schools also receive positive attention from media outlets that offer alternative rankings, such as the biennial “Beyond Grey Pinstripes” survey conducted by the Aspen Institute. Perhaps in the future, the rankings that business schools will find most desirable will be the ones that focus on sustainability and social responsibility. In that case, deans lobbying for a sustainable building might find it easier to convince stakeholders of its value.

Promoting Learning In a Green School

Not only do sustainable buildings offer benefits in terms of cost savings, staff retention, productivity, and goodwill, they also serve as excellent places for students to learn.

Sustainable learning environments are ideal for schools that require highly adaptable spaces that can be reconfigured easily. For instance, the Williamson College of Business Administration at Youngstown State University in Ohio and the Labovitz School each required a modular approach for their buildings, with interchangeable classrooms and offices. To maximize flexibility, the Williamson facility also incorporated a raised-access floor plan for the entire building, which will allow great adaptability when the school needs to upgrade technology or heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Not only are both buildings highly adaptable, both buildings also have received LEED Gold Certification.

Any business school that wants to design an adaptable space needs to take into consideration both its mission and its technical requirements. Structural grids must be properly sized, and engineering systems must be adaptable. For the greatest amount of flexibility, schools should keep rooms at a relatively consistent size so that it’s easy to create interchangeable modules of space.

A new building also can incorporate spaces specifically designed to focus on sustainability, from learning labs for students to outreach centers for regional businesses seeking resources on green topics.

The building itself can function as a learning tool. Green construction elements help students and faculty understand the technical aspects of sustainable design while they explore the kinds of payback delivered by sustainable materials and energy-efficient systems. In this case, it’s key for the administration to continually highlight the steps it’s taking to make the building green. For instance, the Williamson College of Business is planning kiosks that inform students and faculty about the sustainable strategies used within the new building. The building has also dedicated space to becoming a regional resource for sustainable enterprise.

Aligning with Values

Ultimately, the success of any business school environment depends on how well the institution’s resources align with its vision and mission. Among nationally acclaimed programs, there is a direct correlation between their physical spaces and the way they teach, conduct research, and enable outreach. For schools that are dedicated to teaching about sustainability, green buildings will underscore the focus of their programs. Schools with other priorities will choose designs that reflect their values and their missions.

What’s important is for schools to first determine who they are and how they want to display themselves to the world. Then they will know what kind of building will best reflect their identities and their spirits.

Jeff Ziebarth, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal at the architec­tural firm Perkins+Will, which has locations in 23 cities around the world. A Higher Education Global Market Leader for the firm, he is a specialist in building for higher education and business school clients. He is located in the Minneapolis office.