Driving down Greene Street, it’s hard not to appreciate the brick and stone buildings that have been the foundation of the University of South Carolina’s grounds for more than 200 years. With technology improving by the second and the number of undergraduates growing each year, it is a natural result that new academic buildings be erected in reflection of their innovation. At the stoplight of Greene and Assembly streets, the contemporary glory of the new four-story, 251,891-sqaure-foot Moore School of Business catches not only the eye, but also one’s interest. The exterior design encompasses curved glass walls, tall vertical columns, horizontal lines, a central courtyard filled with palmetto trees, and an architecture that is decidedly new to the downtown Columbia community.
However, the true beauty of the new Moore School is in the pride and energy it’s created among students, faculty and staff.
The school’s levels are arrayed around the courtyard, both above and below. Many of the surfaces of the school also reflect the palmetto trees that influenced its design, with frequent brown and green tones. With the courtyard, central gathering areas and wide stairways, the Moore School is designed to create a sense of community and comradery and is intended to keep the Moore School as a top ranked international business school.
It also now has to be considered one of the most interesting and distinctive public spaces in Columbia.
The University, architects and designers all wanted to build both a revolutionary educational center as well as a landmark in the Vista as the University continues to expand. According to Andrea Lamberti, a partner at Rafael Vinoly Architects, “The chance to create a gateway to the Innovista absolutely was so appealing to everyone.”
The design of the building also seems to be a response to the shortcomings of the old Moore School, a 1970s-era tower on the other side of campus. The new Moore School has wide staircases rising on the sides of the central courtyard — a far cry from the elevator banks that transported students up and down the old tower. One student recalls waiting 15 minutes or more just to leave the level of her classroom in the old building. Others describe traveling the halls of the old school and never seeing people from other departments, just because they were on different floors.
Another improvement from the old Moore School is employing more natural lighting. All of the classrooms are now on the same level, one floor down from the courtyard area. The architects designed overhead windows to let daylight shine down, filling the halls. Other areas also use broad windows or a clerestory to bring in the daylight.
The classrooms themselves are innovative, too. There are eight different configurations for classrooms, and those rooms can then also be reconfigured. “In many of the new classrooms, walls can even be moved to give the room a different shape,” says Dan Ostergaard, managing director of the Master in International Business program. “That variability allows the class to, for instance, face each other during a discussion rather than straining to see who’s speaking,” he says. Other flexible innovations include classroom Wi-Fi and walls that are coated in dry-erase material, so the instructor can use much of the room as his blackboard.
Some classrooms have multiple screen projectors. Dan says that they could be used in many ways, such as a lesson about the stock markets. One screen can show the live stock market, while the other can show what investments students have “bought” as part of the exercise. Moore School instructors have the challenge of exploring how to make the best use of all the new technology. “I have opportunities to do things I’ve never done before,” Dan says.
Throughout the new school, the expansion of light — and the deflection of South Carolina heat — has been a major topic of consideration. Andrea explains that the different tiers of the six-level building have been set slightly wider as it ascends, so that each floor can shade the one below it from the hottest midday rays of the sun. For those windows that will still receive a strong dose of solar heat, a variety of window tints were tested to see which would work best.
USC has ambitious sustainability goals for the new Moore School, and it is working with the U.S. Energy Department to reach them. Debbie Brumbaugh, CFO, shares that the building is designed to be certified for LEED Platinum status, which takes many different sustainability and environmental factors into account. In addition, a design objective for the school is that it achieves Net Zero status, which means that the building generates as much power as it uses. That’s a major challenge for a building of more than 250,000 square feet. The highest level of the building is designed to welcome solar generating panels in the future to help meet energy conservation goals.
That level of energy efficiency alone would make the new Moore School a standout nationally, but the building has been conceived to continue and bolster the school’s prestige. In September, the school was again ranked No. 1 for undergraduate and graduate international business programs by U.S. News and World Report for the 16th time in a row. The ambition of the new building reflects a drive to keep that level of prestige and even expand upon it, a drive that extends to the schools top benefactor, financier Darla Moore.
“Darla had seen Rafael Vinoly’s work on the building for the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and recommended him for the USC job,” Andrea says. While Darla was engaged in the process of designing the new building, she didn’t try to run the process. “She’s the ideal type of donor,” Andrea continues. “She has a vision but she doesn’t micromanage.”
Darla did, however, visit the site periodically, even donning a hard hat and talking to workers, according to Jeffrey Lamberson, director for facilities design and construction for USC. Darla thanked workers for the great job they were doing building the school, he says.
According to the new dean of the Moore School, Peter Brews, the new design will continue the school’s success even as it adds the freshest technology to the school’s education. “It’s going to completely reposition the school internally and to the world,” he says.
And what do students think about this new school? Early reports have them amazed. “The students are just ecstatic about it,” Peter says. He even heard one comment that he had to verify was meant as a compliment: the student said, “It’s sick.”