SOM campus to reflect philosophy of group learning

When Stan Garstka visited the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business recently, he was sure to check out its locker rooms, showers and all.

Garstka is not a coach, though. He is deputy dean of the Yale School of Management. And his visit to Chicago is nothing if not an indicator of the distinctive approach SOM officials are taking as they plan for a new campus set to open in 2011.

The School of Management will move to a new complex on Whitney Avenue, in contrast to the scattered buildings it currently occupies.
Daniel Carvalho
The School of Management will move to a new complex on Whitney Avenue, in contrast to the scattered buildings it currently occupies.

Lord Norman Foster ARC ’62, whose firm Foster + Partners is designing the facility for Yale, is known for his sleek, contemporary buildings. For SOM, which seeks to stand in the vanguard of business schools, a glass facade will be part of a transformation that began in 2006 with a new curriculum.

But the planning is more than just skin deep: The glass is important, SOM officials said, but of even greater interest is what will go on within the svelte walls.

The showers, for example, are not for lacing up to play basketball — they are for suiting up for interviews.

And it might not be too much of a stretch to say that SOM itself is suiting up these days.

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When first announced in September, the complex, which will be located on a four-acre site on Whitney Avenue, was to be some 230,000 square feet in all. The building has since grown, if only on paper, to 246,000 square feet, Associate SOM Dean Diane Palmeri said.

Such changes are in part just a reflection of the constantly changing nature of any design process, but they also stem from discussions that the architects have had with members of the SOM community.

In those sessions, students in particular have reflected on shortcomings in the school’s current facilities. But when asked to identify qualities they hope will come to define the new campus, there was little disagreement.

“The architects were amazed,” Palmeri said. “Each group came out with similar, and in many cases identical, goals for the project and for our school.”

One of the most pronounced problems with existing SOM facilities is that they are scattered among various buildings on campus, making it difficult for students and faculty to feel that their school has a unified home.

This will all change, as courtyards and common spaces are an integral part of the tentative designs, Palmeri said.

These social hubs are about more than just filling obvious needs, Dean Joel Podolny said — they are an extension of curricular developments.

“We have historically placed an emphasis on groups and teams,” Podolny said. “Now we’re going to have the facilities to support us in that effort.”

For Jonathan Lehr SOM ’09, facilities can truly be a literal term. He said the current “outdated bathrooms” are bothersome for students. And on a more serious note, Lehr said, group spaces are essential to SOM students.

Even conference calls require the availability of large rooms, he said.

If administrators are focusing on anything in this process, it seems to be the design of classrooms themselves. Podolny posed a simple problem.

“I know it sounds trivial,” he said, “but usually there’s only one podium in front of a class. What if you have two instructors and both have notes? What if both have laptops? They’re tripping over each other.”

In a curriculum that emphasizes such collaborative teaching, tripping could be a real concern. So classroom designers at Foster’s firm are taking a whole different approach — they are looking at sightlines from student desks almost as if they were baseball-stadium architects.

And beyond where students are sitting, Podolny said the seats themselves may be hardwired with new technologies so that faculty can track students’ responses and record class activities.

“It’s just very exciting to be exploring so many new developments all at once,” Podolny said.

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For the University in general, there is also excitement about the possibilities the new SOM campus opens up for other programs.

Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, noted that SOM’s vacating several buildings at the top of Hillhouse Avenue will allow the University to put those sites to new uses.

Together with other developments in the area, Stern said, the existing SOM buildings can help bring vitality at all hours into the Science Hill area — perhaps in tandem with the addition of two new residential colleges just north of the Grove Street Cemetery along Prospect Street.

“Interesting uses that were never before possible in that area are now going to make the upper end of campus more central,” Stern said.

Thomas Zacharias SOM ’79 was at Yale during a time of similar excitement surrounding SOM’s facilities. He was a student at SOM when it was a startup and said the facilities built then were “very appealing.”

But Zacharias, now involved in real-estate development in New York City, noted the difficulty of expansion at SOM until the recent decision to build a completely new campus.

“There were tremendous limitations to what you could do at the current location,” he said.

Those limitations have become obvious over the years, but Garstka said SOM is now in a position to grow like never before. Along with the expanded physical space, student enrollment will also increase when the new facilities are available.

“Management is fundamentally a group activity,” Garstka said. “Our group is getting bigger and our home is getting nicer.”

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