Building a Business School Through Design Thinking

UTS Business School at the University of Technology Sydney's Dean Roy Green tells Dan LeClair, EVP and chief strategy and innovation officer at AACSB, about the creation of the Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building, designed by architect Frank Gehry.


Dan LeClair: [00:16] I remember a long time ago, you telling me a little bit about the inspiration, a little bit about the vision that Frank [Gehry] has always had for education and how this might help translate.

[00:27] Can you take us back a little bit in time about the inspiration for this building? Beyond the creativity, what else might have played in?

Roy Green: [00:38] Well, when I began as dean, we conducted what we called a strategic conversation, which was to reflect where we were, and where we wanted to be in five years' time.

[00:48] We had some help from a design-thinking consulting firm, one of whose principals was the former head of the California College of Art.

[00:58] As our strategic conversation proceeded and we were reformulating our vision around integrative thinking, we got approval to do a new building on a brownfield site in the middle of Sydney.

[01:15] It occurred to us that an architect who would be very suited to this building, but whom we had no idea of contacting, would be Frank Gehry, given all the work he's done—concert halls, museums, corporate structures.

[01:34] But also in the educational space with MIT Stata, the Weatherhead School of Management, at Case Western, Princeton Science Library, he was really getting really involved in the educational context as well. We thought there might be a shared educational philosophy there as well.

[01:54] He asked us to state our vision, where we wanted to be. He thought that looked pretty interesting, and he texted back, "I'm up for it."

[02:04] Away we went, and it was just an extraordinary journey with Frank, a great journey of dialog and interaction with him about how, as he put it, he responded to our challenge as well, challenging us around our new philosophy.

[02:22] How we would reflect that in the design of a building, how we would, because the building isn't just about the architect, it's about what drives the architecture.

[02:34] Frank is someone who designs from the inside out. He wants to start from the functional spaces that we want to create around the way we work together with our students, with our partners, stakeholders, as well as reference the building to its external environment.

[02:52] That's why he chose this curvilinear brick exterior, something he hadn't done before. We asked him, "Have you ever done this, Frank?" He said, "No. But I like to do things for the first time."

[03:06] Anyone who sees the building will realize it is quite an engineering feat in itself as well as one that reflects and reinforces where we wanted to go with our educational programs.

LeClair: [03:18] More than many schools, this helps to illustrate how important the space is for learning and for the types of outcomes and impact that you're trying to make in the community.

Green: [03:29] Well, we say to ourselves, universities were inspiring spaces from the 15th century onwards. Then something went badly wrong in the 1970s, and we thought we could be creative in utilitarian boxes. How could that be possible?

[03:43] I think universities generally and business schools are now rediscovering architecture, rediscovering the importance of the physical spaces in which we work and the relationships we have within those spaces to programs that must, by design, be much more innovative, much more forward thinking than they might have been in the past.

Filmed April 2017 on site at AACSB's International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM) in Houston, Texas, USA.