Inside Look: Business Schools

Active 24/7, b-school buildings are often a campus within a campus and tend to be the envy of educators in other departments
By: | Issue: February, 2015
February 5, 2015

There’s an old joke about business schools, which see more than their share of facility upgrades: As soon as the b-school vacates its old quarters to move into a new building, every other school in the university is vying for the vacant space.

The attractions are many. There are the technology-rich, active learning environments designed to feel welcoming and bright at any hour of the day. Innovation workshops provide “messy study” areas, and multiple gathering spaces provide a venue for everything from a small event to a gala reception.

And lest anyone need to go elsewhere to grab a bite or have food brought in for a formal affair, there are multiple dining options and catering facilities. B-school students may well have their own fitness center on site, too.

“You need a fully functioning business school environment. They have to eat there, have quiet study there, have group discussions there, go to events to hear speakers there—plus go to class,” says architect Jill Lerner, who has been part of at least 10 b-school projects led by New York City-based Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

Group study spaces are key. In planning, her team will ask what percentage of students will be in the building at a given time and need to work in groups. “We’ve heard numbers like 50 percent, or 75 percent,” she says, adding that business schools are more often thought of as campuses themselves than as single buildings.

These campuses may have their own research libraries and separate career centers. Alumni relations and development staff are on hand to greet corporate leaders and other influential guests.

“With all of our business schools, one thing that continues to be a very important need is building a sense of community among students and faculty,” Lerner says. “There is a need for face-to-face coming together, and business schools excel in that.”

As Lerner’s colleague, Susan Lowance, a director at KPF, puts it: Business schools “tend to be the most outward-focused entity on campus. There’s no ivory tower about them.”

Executives are there for one-time speaking engagements and to teach courses as adjuncts. They also bring real-life business challenges for students to solve in group-project work. Or, these business leaders may be students themselves in executive education or part-time MBA programs.

Not surprisingly, the constant access and activity leave deep marks on the school. With all of the interaction these schools have with the business community, Lowance says, “the impact of the changing workplace has shown up on the business school campus more quickly than it has in other areas.”

And with broadcast studios in many b-school buildings, it’s not just about inviting those from outside in, but also about sharing. Faculty and students, says Lerner, “want to put their material out for consumption.”