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04.08.2014
New Kid on the Bloch
University of Missouri-Kansas City business school design seeks "generous pragmatism."
Business school design aims for the "choreography of community."
James Ewing

The Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri–Kansas City recently doubled its campus footprint with the opening of the highly contextual Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Bloch School Dean Teng-kee Tan will tell you there’s no building like it among business schools, positioned not in a specific discipline like marketing, but rather in the flux of Kansas City’s entrepreneurial past and future.

“Corporations like American Century Investments, Bushnell, Hallmark, and H&R Block, which produced the school’s chief benefactor, are Kansas City’s startup legacy,” said Dean Tan. It follows that the institution would want to capitalize on these success stories.

Four years ago, at the behest of Dean Tan, co-designers BNIM and MRY Architects and Planners set a course for a new management school building steeped in the pedagogy of “learning-by-doing.” A guiding light for the project was Dean Tan’s pronouncement that “innovation is never a straight line.” The building’s circle-within-a-box construction, adjustable interiors, unexpected sightlines, and great transparency give credence to the crooked line. So does the site plan: The Bloch Executive Hall is strung along a North-South axis with the off-centered old Bloch School building and a meandering approach up Marion H. Bloch Park’s “path of innovation.”

   
The University of Missouri–Kansas City's school of management recently doubled its campus footprint.
James Ewing, left; Mike Sinclair, center and right
 

The Bloch Executive Hall tries to meet spontaneous and interactive programmatic demands by erasing rigid interiors and promoting “choreography of community,” as architect Buzz Yudell of MCY posits. BNIM’s Steve McDowell, the project lead, takes a similar turn of phrase in discussing the structure’s “generous pragmatism—that what a building does matters as much as how it looks.” That balance is evident in the facility’s graceful footing, “light and celebratory” interiors with a sensible amount of technological add-ons, and its amplification of community.

The 68,000-square-foot facility has the requisite classrooms and offices, but some possess moveable floors that can add or subtract tiers based on teaching needs. Several “labs” (innovation, finance, prototyping, etc.) stand in for conventional learning spaces. Bloch’s 202-seat auditorium is also no black box—its surfaces and exposures invite “glorious warm yellow reflective light off of the nearby student union,” according to McDowell. “We didn’t cover up anything that could be beautiful,” he said.

James Ewing
 

The Bloch Executive Hall also features a seldom seen hybrid precast envelope that fuses terra cotta to concrete, boosting thermal mass and cost-effectiveness under a relatively tight capital budget of $32 million. The aesthetic payoff is exposed concrete in the interior and delicate red and yellow paneling in the curtain wall—a coloring strategy that distills the community’s predominant building types over the last century, especially important since the west side of campus has never read as institutional.

 
James Ewing
 

A favorite design element of both architects is the three-story atrium that cuts an uneven path to the roof, resulting in floor overhangs, misshapen balconies, and a ton of interplay. The atrium’s three conical skylights ensure a progression from crisp morning beams to diffuse evening saturation.

“The overlay of levels creates a dynamic creative environment and a sense of discovery through syncopated geometry and lighting,” notes Yudell. “It never feels the same at different points in the day or times of year.”

Dean Tan credits the new Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall in part for the school’s No.1 global ranking in innovation management research, per the Journal of Product Innovation Management. There is no doubt the architecture has the ability to spur new traditions in academic design. As Yudell put it, newness is usually “more evolutionary than revolutionary.”

Ian Spula

 

James Ewing