The Architecture Of Business Schools: Reflection Of A Society

“Bow down before the one you serve, you’re going to get what you deserve.” – Trent Renzor, Nine Inch Nails

I recently went to a conference on location-based services hosted by Columbia University’s Business School. The conference panels had some very good speakers, but before I get to that, I am more interested in putting down some of thoughts on the architecture of the b-school’s Uris Hall. In Bill Moyer’s now classic series with Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, Campbell speaks on identifying a period of a civilization through its grandest architecture. At one time in civilization, the biggest and boldest architecture were religious, (Notre Dame, Angkor Wat, Borobodur.) Later, government buildings were the most monumental (Pentagon, Reichstag, UK Parliament.) Today, corporations inhabit a society’s feats of soaring architecture (Sears Tower, Tapei 101, World Trade Center.)

The hierarchy of buildings is a direct reflection of the society’s focus and emphasis. A similar phenomenon can be seen on university campuses. These reasons for this hierarchy is fairly obvious, schools that will produce the richest alumni and procure the largest private industry and government funding can afford to erect new buildings. Especially in the recent building craze, we often find that business school have the newest and shiniest facilities. Law and engineering schools also tend to the fair rather well in this regard as well. Humanities tend to be housed in older, albeit more charming, buildings which smell of learning. To be fair, one of the newest buildings on the Columbia campus is for the School of Social Work, and while not business, law, or engineering, it is still an applied discipline. Although, Uris is not the newest building on the campus, the Columbia Business has announced that they will one of the first to be relocated to their new Manhattenville (read: Harlem) campus. The use architecture as a litmus test of the focus of a society is a simple but compelling one.

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