July 15, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: USC’s new business school has ‘wow factor’ (+ video)

A peek inside the new Darla Moore School of Business building three weeks before full occupancy and five weeks before students arrive reveals how University of South Carolina is trying to build a modernize buildings in a race for top students and faculty.

Audrey Korsgaard beamed over her office in the University of South Carolina’s new, ultra-green Darla Moore School of Business building on Tuesday.

The head of the school’s management department can sit in her ergonomic chair by a large window with shades to cut the glare. If she’s tired of sitting, Korsgaard can raise her desk high enough that she can work while standing.

Outside her office, the building’s open-floor design allows her to mingle.

“I meet people I didn’t know in the faculty — every day,” said Korsgaard, a 23-year USC veteran who was among the first faculty members to move into the new building a week ago. “The building has a big ‘wow’ factor.”

A peek inside the $106.5 million building, three weeks before its full occupancy and five weeks before students start arriving, reveals how USC is trying to modernize its buildings in a race for top students and faculty.

‘Atmosphere of excitement’

The new Moore School is part of USC’s westward expansion, across Columbia’s Assembly Street, that has included a new arena, research hub, recreation center and Greek Village in recent years. Two large dorms are going up behind the Carolina Coliseum, which USC likely will renovate to hold classrooms and a student union as well as practice basketball courts.

The four-story, 251,891-square-foot Moore School building is likely the single most expensive construction project on the 213-year-old USC campus. The business school’s namesake, Lake City financier and top USC benefactor Darla Moore, chose a New York architect to make a bold statement at the corner of Assembly and Greene streets — and in the academic world.

The interior design aims to bolster collaboration among the school’s 5,320 students, 150 faculty members and 100 support staff. The exterior allows enough light in to become the largest building in South Carolina to earn the highest designation for environmental certification for its energy savings.

The cutting-edge building could translate into improving a school that already has highly nationally ranked international business programs.

“Unless you’re Harvard, which can be in any kind of building, people make lists of comparisons when looking at schools,” said Kendall Roth, who heads the school’s international business program. “This creates an atmosphere of excitement and leading edge in what we do.”

‘The best and brightest’

The business school’s current home — the eight-story, 41-year-old Close-Hipp building — was compared to a silo by some faculty and staff. Its smaller floors cut off access among various departments in the business school. The dated building also was not attractive to students and faculty, who were looking for modern amenities.

The new building’s architectural touches include a large outdoor courtyard with Palmetto trees, in the center of the structure, that can be seen through interior window walls throughout the building. Gatherings and special lectures can be held in one of two glass-encased rooftop pavilions or a copper-covered courtyard pavilion.

A 500-seat auditorium will be used for lectures by day and recitals, by the USC music school, at night, said Debbie Brumbaugh, the business school’s chief financial officer.

The new Moore School building’s modern feel includes technology in classrooms and conference rooms that allow for video-conferencing, a trading room with a stock-market ticker and hundreds of panes of tempered-glass windows — allowing natural light to come from all directions, including the ceilings.

Many meeting rooms having large windows that overlook Assembly Street — including views of the S.C. State House and Williams-Brice Stadium.

“We wanted students to see what’s happening in the business community,” Brumbaugh said.

Moore School dean Peter Brews’ fourth-floor office includes a covered patio with a view westward toward the Congaree River. The spot is place to seal deals with faculty and students.

“We go after the best and brightest stars in the market,” Brumbaugh said.

‘It’s a change culturally’

But along with the gee-whiz factor of new furniture, technology and natural light, USC wanted a business school that allowed more flexibility, including classrooms that can be divided into small spaces, and conference rooms and offices that are shared.

“The pattern of functionality in a business school is changing very rapidly, and the building offers that possibility of rearrangement,” architect Rafael Vinoly told a university publication.

The building’s designers also sought to encourage more interaction among the people inside the new building.

Offices in the new Moore School open into common areas. Personal printers have been replaced by copy hubs where people have a chance to meet, Brumbaugh said.

Larger floors allow faculty to remain on the same floor, giving students a “one-stop shop” to visit instructors and professors a chance to more easily work together across disciplines, Korsgaard said.

“It’s a change culturally, not just physically,” she said.

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