“WE SHAPE OUR BUILDINGS, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Dean Doug Elmendorf remembered those words, first uttered by Winston Churchill, at the ribbon cutting for the school’s transformed central campus in December, including the new Ofer, Rubenstein, and Wexner buildings. More than simply the addition of 91,000 square feet of new space for teaching, studying, collaborating, and socializing, the project was an ambitious renewal, creating a unified campus organized around the school’s mission without diluting the school’s vital energy. “Our buildings are the structural framework for our lives here,” Elmendorf continued. “Here important ideas will be born and nurtured. Generations of students will learn from world-class scholars and practitioners. The public leaders of the day will be strengthened to face their challenges, and the public leaders of the future will set their plans in motion.”
What made the campus transformation project unique, according to those closest to the project, was that such a major undertaking was conducted in the midst of a busy campus where teaching and research carried on as usual.
For more than two years, entrances and pathways were rerouted, workstations were relocated, and for those individuals with offices overlooking the building site, drilling and hammering were also part of the new environment.
But watching the new central campus take shape was also a fascinating and exciting experience, one that in many ways brought the faculty, staff, and visitors to the campus together.
And most would agree that the temporary hardship was more than worth it. Students, faculty, and staff now enjoy an expanded dining space that seats 200 people, a spacious new lounge area that looks out onto a glass-enclosed garden, and finally, links between the new buildings and the original ones, making the new campus one that truly brings the community together.
The Kennedy School has always worked to make sure that its teaching matched its intellectual distinction. The new teaching spaces at the heart of the transformed campus are an expression of that commitment. The school added two tiered classrooms that can seat about 100 students and four “cluster” classrooms that allow students to switch between whole-class and small group discussions—as well as smaller rooms for studying and breakout groups.
Increased classroom capacity enables the school to expand the availability of some courses that had traditionally been oversubscribed. It also gives the school the opportunity to take a “portfolio” approach—matching courses to the teaching spaces that best suit their needs. A traditional tiered classroom, for example, is optimal for case teaching, while a new cluster classroom allows for more student-to-student interaction. Technology in the new classrooms offers interactivity both within and outside the room. That is, one group’s work can be easily shared via a central screen with the rest of the class, allowing students’ learning to become more visible to the teacher and to their fellow students. And by connecting the class to the outside world, the school can use its convening power to bring in experts and leaders via remote video or audio links. “Both the layout and the enhanced technology of the new cluster classrooms increase opportunities for active learning through peer engagement in group work,” says Suzanne Cooper, the academic dean for teaching and curriculum and the Edith Stokey Senior Lecturer in Public Policy.
The new environment also favors innovation, says Dan Levy, senior lecturer and faculty chair of SLATE, the school’s learning and teaching initiative. “Space offers nudges for faculty to experiment,” he says, “and then bring those techniques back to other classrooms.”
Sustainability was woven into the very fabric of the campus renewal project from the start. Making the new campus a more healthful place to learn and work, addressing climate change, and building a resilient campus were project priorities.
The Wexner Commons and the new courtyard will provide year-round access to green space, as will more plants throughout the campus. New furniture and carpeting, a green cleaning program, more access to daylight, and even better food were all part of the push to enhance well-being.
The new buildings are aiming for the highest level of environmental and energy certification (LEED Platinum). The energy use was designed to be one-third better than the industry standard. Some 150 solar panels will offer a renewable energy option. And no CFC-based refrigerants (a major greenhouse gas contributor) will be used to serve the new buildings.
The buildings will also be more resistant to the impacts of climate change, with critical equipment situated on higher floors or flood-proofed in order to avoid the possible effects of flooding. The 66,000-gallon rainwater collection tank, which will reduce irrigation water usage by more than half, also provides overflow protection during severe rain or flooding events.
“The project has been an unparalleled opportunity for HKS to ‘walk the talk’ of its research and teaching on sustainable development,” says Bill Clark, Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development.