Kellogg’s Global Hub: A Home With A Little Inspiration From Steve Jobs

To celebrate the building’s lakefront location, Kellogg’s new 415,000-square-foot Global Hub pays homage to the environment in two ways: the curved exterior walls reflect the wave movement on the lake, while the glass reflects the blues of the water as well as the sky

For inspiration and ideas, a contingent of 10 key players in Kellogg’s new Global Hub flew to California to tour the corporate headquarters of Google, Facebook, and Pixar. Led by Dean Sally Blount, the group took the trip on a private plane belonging to investor and financier Steven Crown, departing at 7 a.m. and returning home at 1 a.m.

At Pixar, the group saw the result of Steve Jobs’ vision to use design to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. They witnessed how the smallest details, such as how food was displayed, could make the biggest statements. Returning to Chicago, architect Bruce Kuwabara recalls, the team celebrated by feasting on In-N-Out burgers and $400 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. They had found their muse, the dramatic use of open architecture with soaring ceilings and vast open spaces, as well as an elegant use of wood that lent a warm allure to all the glass and steel in Pixar’s modern workplace.

The aesthetics of Kellogg’s $250 million Global Hub, officially opened this week, were clearly informed by that West Coast trip made in the early planning stages of the building. Kuwabara and Marianne McKenna, founding partners of KPMB Architects, which came up with the design of Kellogg’s new home, describe Blount’s influence on the building the way Apple managers speak of the late Steve Jobs. “We don’t have that many clients who exhort you to do beauty,” Kuwabara says, “but that is what she exhorted us to achieve.”


Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management’s new home on the shores of Lake Michigan is a thing of beauty (see our photo essay: “Kellogg’s $250 Million Marvel On The Lake“). The interior is a mix of sweeping sight lines, wide corridors, and natural light. The building’s exterior boasts curves galore, with each floor lined differently to reflect the wave patterns rushing off Lake Michigan.

Yet the building is much more than a beautiful structure. It is an edifice fashioned to unleash the school’s collaborative spirit and extend its “high impact and low ego” ethos. The name alone — Global Hub — highlights the school’s deeper ambitions. “We are fundamentally transformative,” Blount says. “That’s what this building celebrates.”

On Monday (March 27), many Kellogg students stepped into the Global Hub for the first time. Most said they were filled with awe by the sheer size of the Collaboration Plaza, the 6,000-square-foot central atrium, where they could glimpse the comings and goings of hundreds of students on three floors at a glance. It was a sharp contrast to the old building, the Jacobs Center, a maze-like structure where faculty and students could go months without ever intersecting.


Kat Yang, a second-year MBA, jokes that there is nowhere to hide in the new building. She notes that everyone must walk through the Collaboration Plaza to enter and leave the building. “You’re crossing paths more often than we ever did in the old building,” she observes. “There’s something about that that’s really refreshing. There’s so much more excitement in seeing people. Having more touchpoints means you’re going to be working with them more and having more space to meet.”

She says the regular exposure brings an unexpected benefit: “It creates an additional sense of accountability and transparency between students.”

Just back from spring break, students are busy exploring every corner of Kellogg’s new home. Some have already found favorite spots and camped out. For Yang, it is one of the south-facing student lounges, where she can pause from reading to look out at Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. “There’s something inspirational about that,” she says. “It makes you feel like you’re a captain of industry.” In contrast, Tim Novick, a first-year student, hasn’t yet found his spot — for a reason. “Anywhere you go, there is lots of sunlight and great views where you feel energized by the space around you.”


Already, the Global Hub has changed how and where students spend their time. In the past, Novick admits, he would spend half a day at the old building for class or events before going home. Now, he stays the entire day, enjoying an impressive selection of food options, settling into new comfy places to study, working with colleagues, and exercising. “It is designed to encompass every facet of your day,” he says. “It gives me more time to get to know my peers than I would have otherwise.”

It also represents a night-and-day difference from the Jacobs Center, a slab of concrete that resembled a high school, with pale walls, tired ceiling tiles, and 70s-style marble floors. Inside, “The Jake” was a maze of thematically clashing styles, crowded and cramped, with dull fluorescent lighting and few places to sit and mingle aside from one large emporium. In fact, Harry Kraemer, a clinical professor of strategy, is a bit surprised that Kellogg’s culture has been able to stay true to its roots despite being penned in by its physical surroundings. “Kellogg students are drawn to a more team- and global-oriented environment,” Kraemer says. “Our building did not personify that. We succeeded in spite of where we were. Now, we have a building that builds on what we’re trying to do.”

The whole intent of the space is to reinforce a “culture of closeness.” At the same time, the design naturally streams students into new areas where they might not otherwise go, mixing students together in a serendipitous convergence that can help them deepen surface-level relationships and ultimately enhance their networks after graduation.


That concept doesn’t just apply to students, either. The building consists of two atriums stacked on top each other, with the fourth- and fifth-floor atriums designed to get criss-crossing faculty members to collide and collaborate with peers they otherwise may not have seen for months. The atriums are modern versions of an Italian piazza, an academic village of sorts for the learned, Kuwabara says. In fact, you could look at each floor as four quadrants with a connecting atrium space in the middle, like four pinwheels connected by an axis to funnel people into the middle to interact.

While the Global Hub is geared to be “excessively public,” a term that found its way into the original design brief, there are plenty of options for students to get out of the traffic flow so that students can be, in Kuwabara’s words, “excessively contemplative.” For one, the school offers two ground-floor terraces where students can study and interact in the sun’s glow. Or they can indulge in cool lakefront breezes on five terraces across four floors. Inside, students looking for a quiet spot can also find solace in the second- and third-floor student lounges, with private phone stalls and modern gas fireplaces that harken back to the campfire gatherings of old.

Faith-minded students can slip off to one of the reflection rooms for meditation and prayer. Best of all, the floor wings are speckled with hidden spots that offer scenic overlooks for students looking to get away.


“When you walk in here,  you just elevate your sights,” says Ben Jones, a professor of strategy at the school. “You feel inspiration.”

Despite the wealth of options at the Global Hub, some students still harbor a soft spot for the Jacobs Center. “It was our Jake,” explains Yang, who’ll be joining AbbVie, the Chicago-area pharmaceutical research and development firm. “It might have been a little ugly at times, but it was our ugly building. There will always be a place near-and-dear to my heart for the Jake and that’s because I had such a great time at Kellogg.”

Novick, who’ll be interning this summer at a small Orange County firm specializing in air particle sensors, is also a bit nostalgic for the Jake. It was where he envisioned himself when he came to Kellogg. However, he is looking forward to what the future will bring at the Global Hub. “Change is always good. I’m still trying to feel out the space and figure out where I want to be.”

The architectural brief for Kellogg’s Global Hub called for an “excessively public” building. Bruce Kuwabara, a foundering partner of Toronto-based KPMB Architects, says the directive brought to mind an “academic village in a hilltop town or public square.” That turned out to be the so-called Collaboration Plaza on the first floor, with a three-story-high atrium and two glass openings that draw attention toward Lake Michigan and Chicago’s skyline