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Stanford’s Ambitious New $345 Million Campus

When a visiting accreditation review committee last scrutinized Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the group had nothing negative to say about the elite MBA program with only one exception. Members of the committee remarked that given the school’s location in Northern California, it was surprising there was no natural light in any of the business school’s classes.

That will change later this month on April 29th when Stanford officially opens its new $345 million business school campus, arguably the most ambitious and all-encompassing B-school facility makeover ever. Unlike the University of Michigan’s $145 million new Ross School of Business in 2009 or the University of Chicago’s $125 million Booth School of Business in 2004, this is no mere single building project.

Instead, it’s the completion of an entirely new $350 million campus—a 10-year-long project for which planning began in 2001 (also see our slideshow of the construction of the center). The new Knight Management Center, named after Nike founder and Stanford MBA alum Phil Knight, is a complex of eight new, separate buildings created around three quadrangles. Knight put up $105 million toward the cost of the new center.

If there is, as some critics have suggested, an arms race among the elite business schools to construct bigger and more elaborate facilities to attract better applicants and faculty, the new Stanford campus is a game changer. Among other things, the new facilities are likely to spike applications to what is already the most selective business school in the U.S. Last year, Stanford accepted only 6.5% of the 7,536 applicants for the school’s 385 spots in the first-year MBA class. It’s typical for schools with brand new facilities to attract a larger number of applicants.

The complex gives Stanford’s B-School some 360,000 square feet of space, roughly 30 percent more than it had in its previous location. There are now 13 tiered classrooms, up from 11, 20 flat-floored classrooms, up from eight, and 70 breakout and study rooms, a huge improvement from 28 previously. The larger number of breakout rooms, in particular, will help the school to more effectively deliver its new curriculum changes that emphasize smaller seminar-style courses.

A new 600-seat auditorium replaces the previous 324-seat model. There also are eight 16-person seminar rooms, to allow for more intimate instruction, eight showers for MBA students who also can use the university athletic center next store, and an 870-car underground parking structure on a campus where parking was always an ordeal.

Completely gone are the windowless classes where most of Stanford’s MBA courses had been taught in a blocky building put up in 1966. With the exception of a behavioral lab, all the classrooms now have natural light—so future AACSB accreditation committees will never be surprised again by those windowless classrooms in the past.

If a building can have a transformative impact on a business school—as it has had at both Ross and Booth—a completely new campus has the potential to further fuel even greater community in what is already a highly collaborative culture. With half of the 12.5-acre site preserved for open space, the new complex has the feel of a “small village” that will encourage even more bonding and community building than ever before. Dean Garth Saloner calls the new campus “an inflection point” for the school. “The new facility fosters the innovative thinking and collaboration required of GSB students,” says Saloner,” and serves as a launch pad for new courses and programs, as well as a platform from which our faculty will create cutting edge management knowledge in the years to come.”

More than a half-dozen art pieces populate the new open landscape, including Monument to Change As It Changes, a wall of moving squares that evokes the aspirations of the school’s slogan: “Change Lives. Change Organizations. Change the World.” Another lighted installation is titled Ways to Change. “One of the things I like best about the new complex is the cornerstone,” says Saloner. “It reads, ‘Dedicated to the things that haven’t happened yet and the people who will dream them up.’ … This certainly captures the aspiration of the Stanford GSB.”