Architects Foster + Partners Provide a Preview of What Might Be The Classroom of the Future
The sketch projected onto the screen looked a bit like a stop sign as interpreted by an abstract expressionist painter, or maybe the shield of a yet-to-be-known superhero. In the middle of the eight-sided shape, a large open area radiated four pathways, which broke the figure up into four equal sections. It may not have looked like a classroom at first glance. But as Chris West, an architect for Foster + Partners, explained the design to his audience of SOM students and staff, a new kind of classroom came into view, one that suggested at least one way that the school’s integrated curriculum has the potential to change the very nature of business school education. “It’s really interesting how the new teaching techniques here have affected the designs of the classrooms,” West told the group.
West, who worked on the celebrated Foster-designed Hearst Tower, came to campus on February 15, 2008, to present preliminary designs for classrooms and an early idea of how some of the other elements of a new campus are taking shape. In September 2007, Yale awarded Foster + Partners the commission to design the new 230,000-square-foot SOM campus, to be built on Whitney Avenue not far from the current SOM complex. While the final design concept for the campus isn’t expected to be approved until later in the year, some potential aspects are coming into focus. The preliminary sketches of classrooms emphasize a multidisciplinary, multimedia approach that enables flexibility and team work. For instance, the sketch of the octagonal room eschews the traditional setting of teacher centered at the head of a single block of students, and instead proposes that students sit in three groupings arrayed on risers in a horseshoe around multiple teaching stations, with a media wall up front. The media wall would be angled to provide good sight lines from any seat in the classroom. “A lot of ideas came out of brainstorming sessions with small groups of faculty,” West said, the project architect for the new SOM campus.
Since winning the design competition, representatives of Foster + Partners have held a number of requirements-gathering sessions with students, faculty, and staff to help shape the properties that will distinguish the new campus. West said the resulting impression was a community unified around its vision for the school. “What was interesting to us was the consistency between students, faculty, and staff,” he said. The input helped shape design elements, be they the interactive nature of the classrooms, flexible meeting rooms, or a courtyard, which would be a central element of the design. Dean Joel Podolny said the experience has been an education not just for the architects but for the SOM community as well. “I’m getting more and more excited for what this will mean for the image of the institution,” he said. “The new campus represents a real opportunity.”
West, who also detailed advances in lighting and air flow the new campus will likely utilize, explained how the new campus won’t just incorporate the spirit of SOM, but will augment Yale’s rich architectural history. “Yale has an incredible collection of great buildings,” he said. “We have a chance to build something really important. When we look around at the incredible amount of integrity of the modern buildings; this is how we will approach this project. We will create something distinctive from all other business schools, that embraces the SOM values.”