Firm looks to reinvigorate MSU business school


The $60-million expansion of MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business, led by Grand Rapids-based Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, will increase the building’s footprint by 100,000 square feet. Rendering courtesy FTCH

A Grand Rapids architect has a key role in helping Michigan State University complete its $60-million college of business expansion.

With a history of more than 30 years of projects in partnership with MSU, Grand Rapids-based Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber Inc. was selected through an RFP process as the architect of record for the project, which aims to further advance the reputation of the Eli Broad College of Business in East Lansing, said Dan Launstein, a senior architect with FTCH.

The school currently is ranked in the top 40 business schools by Forbes (No. 27), Businessweek (No. 27), The Economist (No. 36) and U.S. News & World Report (No. 27), and top 20 among public universities, but new dean Sanjay Gupta believes the school needs reinvigoration to continue improving its programs, specifically its graduate programs.

“We need to be able to have classrooms where technology is seamlessly assimilated with collaborative spaces. All of that cannot be done retrofitting our existing facilities,” Gupta said in a press release. “Living and learning are evolving in ways that we could not have imagined. This new facility will help us keep pace with transformations in graduate business education.”

The expansion will increase the footprint of the building by 100,000 square feet and will aim to give the university a “statement facility” for its students, according to MSU.

It’s not every day a West Michigan architecture and engineering firm is called upon to complete a transformational project, so FTCH sought a partner with prior business school planning and design to collaborate on the project, Launstein said.

Through its years of projects with MSU, FTCH learned the culture, ideals and trust of the school while also understanding the standards, expectations and requirements to work with the university, Launstein said.

The result was partnering with Seattle-based LMN Architects, which has partnered with firms across the country to complete business schools. Colleges of business LMN has worked on include Clemson University, University of Washington, Utah State University and University of California-Irvine. The firm also specializes in other university facilities and convention centers.

“We got a cue from the university we might want to reach out to them,” Launstein said. “That’s when we became aware of the architects and how the marriage started.”

Construction is slated to start in June, pending board of trustees’ approval and donors. FTCH is the lead architect and performs all the engineering tasks, but LMN took the heavy load of work early in the planning process. Launstein said LMN was crucial to help determine the programming and arrangement of the building and spaces within to accomplish what MSU is looking for in the expansion.

As the project progressed through the design phases, the two firms transitioned in responsibility levels but continued their collaboration. The transition in responsibilities was made easier through the Integrated Project Delivery process, which involves owner, design and construction parties all together from the onset of the project.

Launstein said the process is a relatively new concept, but makes projects run smoother as every partner is on the same page. Using the IPD process on a business school project also offers a chance to tie it in to business education and how to operate more efficiently to achieve better results.

IPD takes a longer path to start construction in hopes it saves time and money on the back end as the construction representatives have been present and involved the entire time, so they’re better informed when construction starts.

“Basically, you put a portion of profit at risk and the motivation becomes that you collaborate to make the project better, find savings and efficiencies,” he said. “There’s ways to share in added savings; there’s a financial aspect to this process. It’s one contract, and everyone shares in the risk and reward in a more even manner.”

Launstein said architecture partnerships, like the one between FTCH and LMN, are not unusual, as they can bring specific details and expertise with them from previous projects of the magnitude. Today’s education is more than just four walls, he said.

“There is a specific set of things that business education is comprised of and those practical functional events need a place to occur,” Launstein said. “What they bring is the latest and greatest or new and different thinking of how a business school should be thought of designwise, curriculum, students-to-faculty or students-to-students.

“If you’re involved in a lot of these projects, you get a lot of touches with those questions and experiences to build up your own innate understanding of what makes a business school different than another.”

Beyond the classrooms, which will be fully integrated with technology, Launstein said a majority of the space is not assignable space. Among those are interview suites, which allow corporations to come in and have slates of interviews with job seekers.

“The lounges, common areas, those are as important as the classrooms,” he said. “There’s a strong network between the academic and professional sides of things that’s accentuated within the building. I don’t think typical college and university buildings have as much common space. There’s a lot of volume given to the nonassignable space, and it’s for that engagement between and around and after classes where those types of synergistic things happen.”

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