Corporate transparency

The School of Management’s new home offers lots more room—and a whole new image—for Yale’s youngest professional school.

Mark Alden Branch ’86 is executive editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine.

Former Yale President Rick Levin ’74PhD knew what he wanted when he hired Lord Norman Foster ’62MArch to design the new home of the School of Management: “a contemporary building for a twenty-first-century business school.” But as Foster’s firm began work on the design, word got back to Levin that they were exploring a more traditional approach, to fit in with the Peabody Museum and other buildings nearby.

“When I saw the direction his team was heading,” Levin recalled in a Yale Alumni Magazine interview while the building was still under construction, “I called Norman and said, ‘We want a classic Norman Foster building.’ That put us back on track.”

That $243 million building, now known as Edward P. Evans Hall, had its official opening on January 9, and it will never be confused with, say, the Law School. Foster’s design is thoroughly modern and abstract, with a central courtyard being the only major nod to Yale’s architectural past. It’s also, in its own way, uncharacteristically monumental for a Yale building, with its towering glass-walled interior spaces and broad, tall Whitney Avenue façade that reads like a modern version of a classical temple, with svelte steel columns. (Less enthusiastic observers have likened it to an airport terminal; Foster’s firm has in fact designed several of those.)

It’s a far cry from the six buildings on nearby Hillhouse and Sachem Streets—four nineteenth-century mansions, a former observatory, and a 1960s computer center—that the school had repurposed for classroom and office space over its 39-year history. And administrators believe the new, corporate look will make a difference as SOM tries to compete with more-storied business schools like Harvard and Wharton. “Professional management students want to learn in an environment similar to the one they’re going to be working in,” says professor and former deputy dean Stanley Garstka, who was chosen to represent the building’s future users during the design and construction process.

Evans Hall offers more than twice as much square footage as SOM’s previous quarters—space the expanding school needed badly. (Enrollment has climbed from 408 students in 2009 to 615 this year.) The school also now enjoys twice as many classrooms as before. The 16 “pods,” some round and some oval, whose deep blue outer walls provide some welcome color, are arranged for different kinds of teaching: lecture-style, in tables for small groups, in the round, or oriented to screens for videoconferencing. Foster says that in the midst of the building’s overall transparency, the classrooms are designed to be “protected and cocooned from the outside world.”

Unlike its previous hodgepodge of spaces, SOM’s new home was built specifically to serve its academic program. That move has its risks; the Art and Architecture building, now known as Paul Rudolph Hall, was found early in its life to be ill-suited for the school’s changing needs. Foster says that won’t happen at Evans Hall. At the opening, he pointed out that even the classroom pods, the most solid-looking parts of the building, could easily be removed without affecting the building’s structural integrity and could be demolished and replaced in the future. School of Architecture dean Robert A. M. Stern ’65MArch agreed: “Evans Hall is not designed as a glove,” he said, “but a loose mitten.” Time will tell how well it fits a growing school.

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