Transformation from Inside Out

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Jason George shares a post that explores the Harvard Business School’s case method of teaching; and how this experimental approach in the construction of their classrooms became a model for many industries to follow. 

Harvard Business School’s campus is an extreme outlier, even when compared to those of peer institutions with similar histories. Situated on the Charles River across from the main buildings of its parent university, the self-contained layout was originally conceived in the 1920s. At the time of construction, funding constraints scuttled plans for a dedicated classroom building. Burgeoning enrollments plus the favorable economics of the post-World War II years brought this need back to the foreground.

HBS was a pioneer of the case method of teaching, which involves continuous interaction between faculty and students, so the traditional classroom design with a grid of desks would not suffice. Architects tasked with creating an alternative experimented with a tiered seating arrangement curving around a central space, from which the professor could guide the discussion as a conductor directing a symphony. This allowed students to more easily see and engage with both their teacher and each other.

The new configuration was piloted with a full-scale working mockup before blueprints were finalized. Nevertheless, builders realized their approach was somewhat experimental and might need modification as pedagogy changed. They found an unusual way to accommodate this. When assembling the steel framing they employed I-beams that were longer than usual, minimizing the number of internal load-bearing walls. Although it was more expensive and difficult to install up front, this choice meant that if teaching requirements or student needs changed, classrooms could be torn down or reconfigured without the expense of knocking down the main structure.

 

Key points include:

  • Airport design
  • Building with flexibility or future-proofing in mind
  • An overhaul of  Britain’s National Health Service

 

Read the full article, Flexibility and fragility: Bend or Break, on JasonGeorge.net.