Think of the University’s top-ranked Business School and its prestige.

Jess Cox

Fifty years ago, it would be easy to design a Business School building, solid and distinguished.

Imagine an iconic building that lets the world know that its key function is the cultivation of business minds. Singular, central and permanent, the architecture would reflect the fashions of business hierarchy and elitism. But alas, it is now 50 years later, and the plan for the new Ross School of Business building was not born out of these ideals. In fact, the design put together by New York’s Kohn Pederson Fox Associates and approved by the University Board of Regents last Friday is a symbol of the changing nature of business, keeping the Ross School of Business on the cutting edge of its field.

Think e-Trade and e-Bay. Think international corporations. The world of business is fast becoming a digital phenomenon of nonplace transactions and relationships that supersede ancient territorial borders. Hierarchies have given way to networks, and interaction has proven more successful than dictation. In many ways, a building housing business cannot simply embody stability anymore because it would be misrepresenting the emerging state of shifting economies. In addition, a structure with such rigid uses and spaces is not sufficient to harbor the kind of community environment needed in today’s business model. Yet what does a building based on transience and interaction look like, and can it still be distinguished? We’ll find out when the new Ross School of Business is finally erected, but for now we can look at the ingredients used to make this vision a reality.

One aspect of the building that fuses collaboration with distinction is the glass-roofed entrance dubbed the “winter quad.” Instead of a monument or faAade to declare an identity for the Ross School of Business, a void for public space is the most distinctive feature of the new construction. This central meeting space is surrounded by classrooms and offices, so the fifteen hundred business school students will automatically mingle as a means of getting around, in turn breeding interaction and community. The three story atrium is planned to accommodate five hundred people, lined with a food court and places to rest. Based upon models of business incubators, the idea is to get a critical mass of activity that will overflow into the spaces surrounding. In this way, we can imagine an atmosphere of fervor and chance collisions, not necessarily communication through the traditional channels.

Classrooms in the new business school are also designed for flexible use and external engagement. Realizing the need to talk with others outside the university and trying to address the B-School style of action-based learning, the business faculty flat out needed new facilities that could more fluidly involve students and allow them to conference internationally. Thoughts of change and business evolution also make the idea of “flexible use” attractive. With new construction, the installation of technology can be performed with ease. The risk of making multi-use space is accidentally creating undefined classrooms that can do everything but specialize in blandness. Hopefully, the classrooms fulfill the Ross School’s objectives by merging technology with business relationships, but we won’t know until the building is finally unveiled.

From the very beginning, both faculty and students were involved in new building’s planning. Sub-committees were formed based on programmatic needs, and notions of technology and sustainability were blanketed across all aspects of the structure. It is important that the building does not merely prescribe community, but is developed with community involvement. Engagement with others is perhaps the most vital feature for today’s business professionals, and it is good to see that it is occurring on even internal levels at the B-School.

The goal is that the Ross School of Business will continue to be a leader in today’s business education, and that its built form takes on the same values. Both in its features and its conception, the new building is a product of communication, interaction, and problem-solving. It can be seen as a symbol of the new wave in business paradigms, although you wouldn’t know by looking at it. You would only know by going there and bumping into a person you know, striking up a conversation, and later becoming business venture partners.

 

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