Architects Foster + Partners Move Forward With Design Process for New Yale SOM Campus
Several months after Yale picked Foster + Partners to design the new SOM campus, to be constructed on the Whitney Avenue parcel across from the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the process is moving along, with the design concept expected to be approved later this year. To get there, the architects have conducted a number of planning exercises with faculty, students, and staff to better understand the needs of the SOM community.
The architects started early in the fall by meeting with a small group of the school’s senior faculty and administrative staff, where they provided snapshots of some of their work and the current SOM campus, along with words that could be used to describe SOM. The task was for people to create two piles, one of images and words that were evocative of the school and one of images and words that were not descriptive of the school. “It was quite an illuminating experience,” said Diane Palmeri, associate dean for finance and administration and the school’s chief administrative officer. “It provided a great sense of how we think about ourselves.” Representatives of Foster + Partners then repeated the exercise with a larger group that included students, faculty, and staff. Koichi Kurisu ’08 said what struck him from these sessions was how much all the various people agreed on what did — and did not — fit into how they saw SOM. “The words aggressive and go-getter just weren’t us,” he said. “They’re not bad, they’re just not SOM. People liked creative, innovative, and team-players.” Palmeri said it wasn’t just members of the SOM community who were impressed by the broad agreement everyone had on the essence of SOM and how it might be represented in the new campus. “The architects said it was amazing for everyone to see it the same way,” she said. “They said it wasn’t just unusual, but extraordinary.”
The meetings allowed Foster + Partners to get a better feeling for the culture of SOM, which could then be translated into the physical space. This was particularly necessary in light of the new Yale integrated MBA curriculum. Stan Garstka, SOM’s deputy dean, said that the planning process forced SOM leadership to scrutinize exactly how the new curriculum, along with a larger student body and faculty, would influence spatial needs going forward. “It deals with everything from the number of classrooms to their size, to the staff and faculty offices, the number and type of lounges, whether we’ll have a dining facility, a gym, a store, an auditorium,” he said. “The new curriculum requires an abundance of collaborative space. We might want some classrooms that don’t look like today’s standard classrooms, maybe something with multiple levels and small tables. The idea is to be forward thinking.”
As Garstka noted, however, in some ways, the real work has already begun. In addition to the architectural firm itself, Yale has hired consultants to help with new technology, the campus’ environmental impact, lighting, and landscaping, and has engaged the New York-based architectural firm Gruzen Samton, to act as “Architects of Record,” or the representative of Foster + Partners in the United States, and a project manager. SOM representatives have held meetings with residents who live behind the site and leaders of the New Haven Lawn Club whose property abuts the new campus site. Garstka said the school is interested in getting input from all its new neighbors and added that one aspect of the design plan will be green space open to the general public.
Kurisu said that even though he doesn’t know what the final design will look like, his experience in the planning session with Foster + Partners makes him confident that in the end the new building will be exactly what SOM needs. “We have a very strong ID at SOM, a strong sense of leadership, but the current space hasn’t reflected that,” he said. “There is a saying, ‘Architecture is destiny.’ I don’t know if I’d go that far, but there’s definitely some truth to it. We need a building that when you arrive at the front door — something we don’t exactly have now — you’ll know you’re at SOM.”