A First Look at the New SOM

The lead architect from Foster + Partners’ Yale School of Management campus project presented some of the features of the current designs-in-progress for the new SOM campus to an audience of SOM students, faculty, and staff in the GM Room on the evening of Tuesday, December 9.

This was the first opportunity for most people in the audience to see what the new campus might look like, and Dean Sharon Oster introduced the evening’s other speakers with a simple assertion: "It really is a fabulous building."

David Yager, an architect and planner in the Yale University Office of Facilities, spoke next, recounting the long and competitive process that had resulted in the selection of the firm of Lord Norman Foster ARCH ’62 to design the new campus. "He was absolutely the right architect for the project, and when you see the designs, I think you’ll agree with me."

The next speaker was Chris West, a partner at Foster + Partners and the lead architect working on the Yale SOM campus. He briefly described his firm and pointed to a few of its other recent projects, such as the Hearst Tower in New York and the Reichstag in Berlin.

"This project is very important to the office and to Norman," said West. He described how the firm has already spent a great deal of time at SOM, learning about its academic programs and its culture, and how the project team also studied other similar buildings, and then sketched and tested new ideas back at their studio located on the banks of the Thames River in London.

He identified four key functions that underlay their design for the new campus:

  • Classroom interaction — the classrooms should enable intense and interactive dialog;

  • Teamwork — the classrooms, breakout rooms, and other spaces should help students work effectively in small teams;

  • Flexible study environments — there should be a variety of different spaces for different activities;

  • Community events — the building should have the capacity to host major school events, such as Commencement.


CloisterWest then presented slides of some of the architects’ visualizations to show how the layout of the building will encourage interaction. For instance, lounge space has been placed outside classrooms and near staircases, so that students and faculty will have the opportunity to pass each other in the course of moving to classes or meetings, much like the interactions that exist today in the Hall of Mirrors on the current SOM campus. In addition, with a glass façade and open layout, people will be able to see from one area to another across the campus, creating a sense that activities throughout the building are interconnected. The expansive courtyard at the center of the campus will also create a unifying effect, as well as linking the SOM campus building architecturally to other courtyard-centric buildings (the Sterling Law Buildings, many of the residential colleges, for example) that already exist on the Yale campus. Throughout the development process, Yale University has striven to be mindful of preserving links to the architectural history of both Yale and New Haven while building for the future.

CourtyardWest next walked through the layout of the building from floor to floor. The ground floor will feature the largest gathering spaces, such as the courtyard, the auditorium, and a café. Classrooms, breakout rooms, lounges, faculty offices, administrative offices, and the library continue on the upper floors. Even the design and location of faculty offices is intended to maximize interaction, which Dean Oster pointed out is both consistent with the school’s integrated approach to MBA education and an improvement over the current dispersion of faculty offices in the four mansions that make up the Hillhouse Avenue portion of the current campus.

West described how there will be classrooms of various shapes and sizes to accommodate different kinds of class content. Foster + Partners is working with other expert consultants to develop innovative classroom layouts as well as the most cutting-edge supporting technology.

With a glass exterior, West said, the building will have screens that can be lowered or raised to block glare from the sun and to improve the performance of the heating and cooling systems. He added that the team is working hard to make the building as efficient as possible—from looking at using low-energy heating systems, to how the glass is manufactured, to what material to put on the roof. He said that the operating plan is to obtain a high LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System) rating for environmental performance.

EntranceLooking at a visualization of the front of the new campus, West said it would be a distinctive home for the school. “Like many buildings at Yale, they’re expressions of what they are and what they’re trying to do.” West said he was particularly looking forward to seeing the building come to life when it is fully occupied, and the activities of the community become a part of what you see through the glass exterior. “We’re very excited about it. We think it’s very unique and very much an expression of the Yale School of Management.”