What to Build When You Are Building

Administrators and an architect discuss crucial design features for new facilities.
What to Build When You Are Building

In the fall of 2013, the Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation opened at the Bloch School of Business at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. The new 68,000-squarefoot facility stands adjacent to the school’s previous building—now called Bloch Heritage Hall—which will continue to offer student services, faculty offices, and classes. The new building houses Bloch Executive Education and the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and also will provide space for some undergraduate classes. Entirely financed by longtime school benefactor Henry Bloch, the US$32 million building was constructed on an accelerated schedule so the donor could be present for its opening. The facility was designed and built by co-architects BNIM and Moore Ruble Yudell and JE Dunn Construction.

new hall is on track to receive LEED certification at the gold level for features that include under-floor air distribution, thermal-mass concrete that evens out temperature fluctuations, thermal insulation, a “cool” roof, and skylights and other glazing options that maximize daylight.

If you’re considering constructing a new facility for your business school, chances are good you’re thinking about including a central atrium or meeting space, flexible classrooms, breakout rooms, stateof- the-art technology, and sustainable design. You’ve already met with donors and upper-level administrators to explain that a new facility will help your school define its brand, strengthen ties to the community, and enhance student learning.

But financing, designing, and constructing a new building can be daunting. For that reason, it helps to hear from those who have been through the process. Here, we offer advice from architect Joseph Tattoni of the design firm ikon.5 in Princeton, New Jersey, and representatives from three business schools that have recently opened new buildings: Rutgers Business School of New Brunswick and Newark, New Jersey; the E.J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge; and the Henry W. Bloch School of Business at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.


Whether a new b-school facility has the swoops and curves of a Gehry building or the classic lines of Gothic architecture, if it’s built in the 21st century it’s likely to include these essential components:

A variety of floor plans. As business schools incorporate experiential learning and flipped classrooms into their programs, they need teaching spaces that allow for more than lectures and case study discussions. At the Bloch School, that meant building flexible classrooms that can fluidly move between lecture formats and small-team discussions and that also allow users to interact in both high-tech and low-tech environments.

The new building includes traditional tiered classrooms, but they’re untraditional in that each level is deep enough to accommodate two rows of seating, says Robert A. Simmons, the associate vice chancellor of administration. That way, when students turn their desks to participate in small-group discussions, they aren’t always looking up or down at their nearest neighbors. The tiered rooms also incorporate whiteboard and video screen technology on all four sides so that even when students are turned away from the front of the room, they can see any graphics posted on the screen without craning their necks. Additionally, during brainstorming sessions, students can stand at any wall and write down suggestions on the whiteboards.

The new Bloch building also includes the flat-and-flexible classrooms enabled by manufacturers like Herman Miller and Steelcase, says Simmons. The rooms are set up around tables that seat approximately eight students; each table includes a screen that can project images from students’ laptops or the professor’s controls. The instructor also can control and access monitors from a central lectern. Tables, chairs, and screens are all on casters for easy reconfiguring.

While most schools want to install flexible classrooms, Tattoni warns that they don’t scale well past 40 students in a room. “We generally suggest that schools use the flat flexible arrangement in smaller classes, and tiered rooms for larger ones,” he says.

Room to experiment. More schools are adding features like trading rooms, finance labs, and incubators, and a handful also are requesting design prototyping spaces that have more in common with design schools than business schools. For instance, the Ourso School’s new building includes an “ideation lab,” described by Tattoni as “a room with a huge video wall and all the AV bells and whistles you could imagine.”

Similarly, the Bloch School’s Design-Led Innovation Lab includes spaces for brainstorming, prototyping, and conducting simulations—a one-stop shop for experiential learning, says David Donnelly, dean of the school. “It’s designed to give students space in which they can go through the creative process, come up with ideas, create business models, experiment with different prototypes, and benefit from mentoring,” he says. Bloch’s design lab was championed by former dean Teng- Kee Tan, who led the building committee on visits to other institutions with spaces that promote creativity, such as the d.school at Stanford University and IDEO headquarters in California.

The Bloch School also includes a behavioral research lab that allows researchers to use high-resolution camera equipment to record subjects during interviews. The recordings keep track of blinks, shrugs, and other nonverbal cues that help researchers determine how subjects are reacting. Says Donnelly, “The equipment is so sophisticated it can read your eye retina as you’re working on an experiential project.” He expects about 1,000 students a year to participate in studies in the lab.

Spaces large and small. Two long-time staples of business school design remain essential for today’s new buildings: large common areas and small breakout rooms.

Those small spaces might be more important than some administrators realize, says Glenn Shafer, dean of the Rutgers Business School. A few years before building a new facility on its New Brunswick campus, the school had renovated its space on the Newark campus, but that earlier building didn’t include quite enough small breakout rooms, meaning that some teams and clubs can’t easily find the space they need to meet. “We made sure we addressed that issue in the New Brunswick building,” Shafer adds. “It seems like a small detail, but for us it was very important.”

The large spaces are equally important. Some are auditoriums that can be used for everything from undergraduate lectures to ongoing speaker series to community forums; others are open central gathering spots where people can meet, work, dine, and socialize. These open spaces facilitate interaction among students, faculty, and administrators. At the Ourso School, dean Richard White makes sure he spends at least an hour a week working at one of the tables in the school’s rotunda so that students and faculty can pause to chat with him informally.

The mix of big spaces, small spaces, and dining facilities at the Ourso building means students have everything they need in one location. Says White, “Instead of going back to the dorm or the fraternity house after classes, students stay in the building all day.” Adds Karen Deville, senior director of the office of advancement, “One of our first-year MBAs said, ‘If there were cots, we wouldn’t have to go home at all.’”

> Six Reasons You Might Need a New Building (Supplemental Resource)

Top-tier tech. As Tattoni notes, today’s technology is so pervasive that everyone simply expects a school will install the very best. And indeed, some of the new buildings are technological marvels. About US$4 million of the Rutgers budget was devoted to technology, which includes projectors, touch screens, glass marker boards, 91 wi-fi access ports, and ten rooms equipped with high-definition videoconferencing capabilities. The new building also offers three student technology centers.

While the technology enables enhanced classroom and online instruction, it’s also key for smooth operations between Rutgers’ two campuses, which are about 30 miles apart. “Each of our six departments is a two-campus department, so we use the videoconferencing every day to conduct meetings and seminars that can take place in both locations,” says Shafer. “While the campuses are relatively close in miles, New Jersey traffic can make them seem very far apart.”

Technology is also a huge part of the Bloch building—not only in the flexible classrooms equipped with screens and monitors, but in spaces like the finance lab, which offers 32 computer workstations and access to live market feeds. Says Simmons, “Whenever I give tours of the building, I point out that whenever you’re looking at a wall, if it’s not a window it’s probably either a whiteboard or a computer or video screen.”

impressive technology can be when stakeholders are touring the building. She recently escorted the LSU board of supervisors around the facility, where they paused at the auditorium to listen to a participant in the distinguished speaker series. Because the guest speaker’s flight to campus had been canceled due to bad weather, he was delivering his presentation through Skype and other AV technology. This gave Deville a chance to point out to board members that Ourso is up-to- date on what the future of learning will look like, she says. “Our new building enables our students to have real-life experiences and be ready to compete in the global environment.”

The problem is that even the most cutting-edge technology becomes obsolete in a few years. “From the standpoint of developing an operating budget, you need to remember that all these fun things will need to be updated and replaced,” Simmons says. “It’s really important that you immediately begin the cycle of funding the operating endowment.”

Others recommend waiting until the last possible minute to commit to technology in a new facility. “Make sure you’re looking at what’s state-of-the-art by the time the building is finished, not just when you’re starting,” Shafer advises.

That was the strategy at the Ourso school, but technology still outpaced their plans. “We put in the infrastructure but we didn’t install the actual technology until the very end,” says Deville. “That’s one reason every class has an empty AV room—we don’t need it any more, because all the technology in the room can be controlled from the podium.”

Tattoni also has witnessed sudden huge shifts. “Today, large amounts of data can be transmitted wirelessly, but 15 years ago we were putting data ports everywhere because if 50 users were transmitting data, the system was sluggish and slow,” he says. Today the real need is for power outlets, he says, since students often are working on or charging multiple devices. “We try to allow two power ports per student per station everywhere, and in the commons area we might bump it up to four,” he says.

Green grandeur. Less than a decade ago, environmentally friendly business schools were still rarities. Today, they’re de rigueur. “For 100 percent of the business school buildings we design, leaders want the facilities to be sustainable,” says Tattoni. “Even in the requests for proposals I’ve seen in the past few years, sustainability is front and center on the page.”

Tattoni believes environmentally friendly design is so important to school administrators because it counterbalances a popular notion that business leaders are unethical. “Building sustainable facilities is a way schools can communicate that they’re good stewards of the earth and good stewards of each other,” he says. “In addition, a lot of corporations, particularly those whose products use natural resources, want students to understand sustainability. Many schools like their buildings to be visible representations of the tools they use for teaching sustainability.”

School administrators see other benefits to green design. For one thing, it’s a recruiting bonus. In the past, says Shafer, Rutgers lost many New Jersey students to out-of-state colleges, but the construction of the new building has partially reversed that trend. “We’ve been able to expand our program and admit more students—and by designing an attractive, sustainable building, we were able to attract some of the best students,” he says. Because the new building has received media attention and can tout its sustainable elements, Shafer believes it has helped the school recruit out-of-state students as well.

Tailor-made features. While it seems that some components of new buildings are universal, it’s important to remember that the only essential features are the ones that suit a specific school.

For instance, the Ourso building needed to fit in well with LSU’s existing 1920s architecture, which followed an Italian Renaissance style and incorporated stucco, Spanish tile roofs, and central courtyards. But it also had to signal to stakeholders that Ourso was prepared to teach students how to conduct business in the 21st century.

Therefore, the final model is a modern take on a traditional style: An undergraduate wing, a graduate wing, an auditorium, and a business commons are clustered around a central courtyard in a traditional arrangement, but the entire complex is made of glass. “It looks like cream-colored masonry, but it’s actually reflective glass with a ceramic frit pattern that conveys the imagery of historic buildings,” says Tattoni.

That tempered glass fulfills another concern specific to Ourso: its location in a hurricane zone. Tattoni explains that the material might look fragile, but it’s strong enough to withstand terrific storms. “If a tree came flying through, it would break the glass wall, but the wall would stay intact,” he says.

In addition to designing for the weather, schools need to design for the majority of their users. At Bloch, that meant primarily graduate and executive education students. The school’s focus on innovation and entrepreneurship also dictated other features, such as the innovation lab.

“Not every school will have the same programs, so I can’t say there’s any one thing every school ought to have. Each school better have a good vision of what it’s about because a building is a longterm investment,” Donnelly says.

Not only does Tattoni wholeheartedly agree, he believes school leaders need to have that vision firmly in mind when they first start interviewing architects. “They should be thinking about who they are and how the building can embody that for them,” he says. “That’s a very philosophical question, and they should find an architect who can help them determine the answer. I think business school leaders sometimes get caught up in the minutiae about seating arrangements in classrooms and the size of the auditorium. The truth is, there are thousands of excellent architects who can give them all of that. What they should look for is the architect who can give them more, who can help them design a building that represents who they are in their own unique way.”