Every day as I walk my way through campus, I see the progress being made on the new four-story building that will soon house the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University. Right now, it is largely the steel skeleton that is in view, but I have seen the architectural drawings that show the completed structure as a vibrant center for teaching and learning for our colleagues in that school. Of course, I must admit that my genuine benevolent feelings at their impending move from a somewhat antiquated building to this light-filled and open structure which features such amenities as maker spaces, collaborative lounges, open offices and flex spaces, is tinged with more than a little self-interest. That is because we are looking down the same road as they did. With our burgeoning enrollments and increased number of faculty needed to staff more diverse programs in our two departments (for instance, this year we are offering three new degree programs in bioengineering, civil engineering, and cybersecurity), our traditionally designed classroom, lab and office buildings of Weed Hall and Adams Hall are rapidly becoming overcrowded.
Academic building design has changed in the past few decades, and we have been operating in environments that were envisaged around 1960, well over a half century ago. That model was geared toward closed classrooms, separate lab facilities for each subject area, and minimal space for interaction between students and faculty in different disciplines. As the importance of multidisciplinary design teams became more prevalent, with graduates of engineering programs being expected to develop better interpersonal skills and become more adept at translating technical ideas to stakeholders with non-technical backgrounds, the need for a less “silo-based” working environment took hold in universities around the country. I often peruse the latest glossy brochures published by engineering schools in which they proudly display the new architecture housing their programs, and am suitably impressed.
There is much to be said for the newer architecture, both aesthetically and from a didactic standpoint. We want our buildings to be places where students choose to spend much of their time, whether doing homework together, or working on capstone design projects where they can draw on the expertise of a variety of professionals, or attending seminars or other talks, both because of interest and because the atmosphere is conducive to becoming involved in whatever is taking place within the school. Our new business school building will feature just such a welcoming ambience with its large entry lobby, ample seating with outside views, and its elegant glass exterior. It is too early to anticipate what exactly the future holds for us – after all, the needs of an engineering school are in some ways different from those of a business school, especially with the vast amount of space we need devoted to laboratories and testing facilities – but the discussions will start soon. The business school design was the result of very fruitful input from all the constituents of the school, and I have no doubt that we will have much to contribute to the final design of our school in the upcoming years.
In the meantime, there is the work at hand, and I am looking forward to seeing the results of our various senior design projects the week after next, and wish all of our students a productive final exam week, and a well-earned vacation before we start up again in 2018.