SOM still to expand

America’s economy just entered a recession, but Yale’s School of Management is still getting its new campus.

Plans for the roughly 246,000-square-foot complex were unveiled to the News and members of the SOM community this week, just over a year after Foster + Partners, the architectural firm of Lord Norman Foster ARC ’62, was commissioned for the project. The new campus will be built at the intersection of Sachem Street and Whitney Avenue, and, officials hope, it will be completed by the fall of 2011.

A visualization of Lord Norman Foster’s ARC ’62 sleek plans for the new School of Management campus. The plans were revealed in a town hall meeting yesterday.
A visualization of Lord Norman Foster’s ARC ’62 sleek plans for the new School of Management campus. The plans were revealed in a town hall meeting yesterday.

Foster’s design is strikingly modern, yet the courtyard within the complex defines the building. This is not a courtyard that James Gamble Rogers 1889 would have designed, Foster noted in a recent interview with the News, but it is a courtyard that suddenly puts the site, just east of the Peabody Museum, in conversation with the likes of Branford College.

“I was thinking about those traditional qualities which I’d enjoyed in an earlier generation of buildings,” Foster said. “I was thinking about the symbolic importance of the quadrangle and I was thinking about how you can create a quadrangle on today’s campus.”

In a strange way, the importance of the courtyard in the SOM design — almost every room will have at least a partial view to the main quad — ties Foster’s design to the work of Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 at the other end of Sachem. There, Stern’s firm is designing two new residential colleges that will be much more traditional in character than the Foster building, but will also surround courtyards.

The similarities will end there, though. Foster’s svelte glass building is meant not only to be in conversation with Yale’s historic campus, but also to send a strong signal of SOM’s cutting-edge curriculum, revamped in 2006 by former Dean Joel Podolny.

“We thought SOM was an opportunity to showcase contemporary architecture,” University President Richard Levin said by phone Monday, as he headed back to Yale from a presentation of the plans to SOM’s board of advisers, “but also to give expression to a 21st-century conception of management studies.”

Speaking to the News, Foster pointed to several aspects of his design that relate singularly to management education. He noted that the building mirrors the school’s emphasis on transparency by making “its internal organization externally explicable,” and he added that he had tried to retain a collegiate feel for the building.

“You shouldn’t walk past this building and think it’s a corporate headquarters or an administration building,” Foster said. “It should somehow signal that SOM is an academic institution.”

Above all, though, the new design has the feel of a business school. SOM Professor Douglas Rae said the school needs the new complex as it tries to stay competitive with other business schools.

The Stanford Graduate School of Business, for instance, broke ground in September on a 360,000-square-foot new complex and the Harvard Business School has been ambitious in its own expansion with its Stern-designed Spangler Campus Center, which it added in 2001.

Rae compared SOM’s new complex to a weight room, saying that facilities are as important in attracting business students and faculty as in recruiting college football players.

But SOM has some of its own unique problems that the new campus aims to address. The campus will more than double the school’s physical footprint to allow for an expansion of enrollment to about 300 students per class, up more than a hundred from this year’s incoming class. Aside from expanding SOM, the new campus will also put all of its students and faculty in the same building for the first time. SOM’s current collection of buildings will likely revert to undergraduate use in the future, University officials said.

SOM’s new building will also feature an auditorium seating approximately 350 people, a library and student lounges that will allow students to interact outside of the classroom.

The question facing SOM is how to pay for the project, estimated at $150 million last year. Given the difficult economic climate — and the sudden resignation of Podolny, a prolific fundraiser, in October — some expressed concern that the project would be cut. But while small adjustments to the design have been made for cost savings, SOM Dean Sharon Oster and Levin said the University remains committed to the project.

“The issue is that we’ve chosen a very elegant, high-end architect and he’s designed us a very elegant, high-end building,” Oster said. “It would be a mistake to try and nickel and dime the project.”

In order to pay for the new building, the school will be aggressive in pursuing donations. Naming rights for the new complex are expected to fetch $100 million, though Oster said the name of the school itself will not be changed.

The economic woes are not the first challenge for the project. The New Haven Preservation Trust had fought the proposed demolition of the two existing buildings on the site, and for a time the University was hoping to incorporate the rotunda entrance of 175 Whitney Ave. into Foster’s design.

But in the end, much to Foster’s delight, SOM decided to look forward, not backward, for the project. The two buildings will come down.

“We all felt that the prospect of a major new building should not be compromised by the buildings that exist on the site,” Foster said over coffee. “We should be providing the kind of facilities where people say ‘I would like to study there’ or ‘I would like to teach there.’ ”

Derek Tam contributed reporting.


  • SOM'11

    Pedestrian crossings and bike facilities on Whitney need to be seriously improved, so that students aren't killed as they walk or bike to their beautiful new building. In other words, I hope Yale is looking at the bigger picture.

  • Randy Wilmot, M. Arch '89

    I commend Yale SOM on a very forward thinking design for their new school. When other constituencies in the Yale community have leaned toward a more historicist approach, SOM has challenged the entire Yale community to look forward and build a campus of the future and frankly of its time.

  • Supah

    The existing som complex was suitable at best for jellyfish, what w/ the maze of halls. but it had its own mystique, one which was charming to those in the inside.

  • Supah

    These secret societies are acne to the face of Yale. They are elitist and anachronistic and have no place at a modern university campus. THe lavish historic buildings, shuttered to all but a select few, represent the arrogant attitudes and snobbism of the people within. The elitist pinheads who carry on these archaic traditions belong elsewhere.

  • Alum 08

    It doesn't look very Yale… While modern is a good image to achieve, it will have a hard time matching the rest of the buildings on the block.

  • The Contrarian

    Well, Randy Wilmot, which is it? "Of the future" or "of its time"? What's that "very forward thinking design" that's looks so much a stew from the last 70 years? If it's "of its time" it will likely date quickly. And if it's "of the future" it'll date even quicker -- just like "Futureland" and "The Jetsons".

    I suggest a better model might be along the lines of, say, Chatworth -- frankly of its time, and Timeless as well.

  • Anonymous

    I don't see how this building is that great, SOM should build something akin to the Law School.

  • Anon.

    Like the Law School … Because nothing says creativity and intellectual ambition like fake medieval architecture…

  • #13

    I don't see why they can't build it out of banana leaves. Thatch is very cost-efficient, and the walls could be hail baileven if it does have to be repaired quarterly.

    And if this didn't work out, we could just get rid of SOM, and thus rid ourselves of the capitalist minions who while speaking progressive-ese, do the bidding of the evil capitalist overloads as they break the backs of the working class.

    Nothing says doublespeak like replacing SOBs with SOMs. I mean, you can't even blame the students. It's the evil capitalist overloads who have changed the name in order to co-opt the do-gooders of the world.


  • Anonymous

    To the anonymous 'By The Contrarian' I won't try to convert your architectural preference. You make yourself very clear in just your name.
    To those who are somewhat intrigued by what Foster is trying to achieve within a modern language I would direct you to an excellent article by Witold Rybczynski in the Wall Street Journal called: When Buildings Try Too Hard Rybczynski shows us how good architecture can be modern and yes 'of their time.' From the small number of images of the new SOM school it is still too early to say whether Foster will achieve what Rybczynski calls 'good architecture', but I do beleive Yale SOM should be applauded for supporting and challenging Foster to do just that; you only need to go to the Standford Business School's website and see the weak and 'watered-down' historicist design for their new school. Kudos to Yale for being a leader in practicing what they teach.