SmithGroup-designed facility looks to the future of business education
The SmithGroup-designed Mike Ilitch School of Business is now open in downtown Detroit. SmithGroup, one of the nation’s largest integrated design firms, worked with Olympia Development of Michigan and Wayne State University to make the $59 million facility a reality.
Located at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Temple Street, this new facility brings students closer to the city’s vibrant business, sports and entertainment district, and cultivates new opportunities for enhanced educational experiences, internships and career options.
Encompassing 125,000-square-feet across four floors, the transformative environment will accommodate more than 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students during the 2018-19 academic year. The new school also positions the university to address trends impacting institutions of higher learning nationwide—including advancing technologies, changing expectations of a new generation of students and evolving demands of future employers.
“Leaders of organizations across industries continue to express a growing need for high-level talent with real world experience,” shared Chris Purdy, director of SmithGroup’s Higher Education Practice. “Located in the heart of Detroit’s business community, this facility enables Wayne State University to connect students with local area business leaders, giving them opportunities to develop and practice the skills that employers desire in graduates.”
Built on a prominent site along Woodward Avenue—a major north/south thoroughfare running through the city’s core—the sleek, new limestone and glass clad facility visually embodies the university’s legacy as a leading educational institution and underscores the positive impact that the school’s namesake, Mike Ilitch, had on the city.
Creation of the new school was made possible by a gift of $40 million and the use of the land from Mike and Marian Ilitch, founders of Little Caesars—the largest gift in Wayne State University’s history. Since the announcement in October 2015, graduate enrollment has increased by 65 percent and total enrollment has increased by 30 percent.
Transparency, connectivity and flexibility shaped the school’s design. Classrooms and pop-up spaces were placed along the outside perimeter and were enclosed by a glass façade—providing passersby views of students in action throughout the day and glowing as a beacon of entrepreneurship and higher learning at night.
The school’s finance and data analytics lab is an ideal space to catch students at work. Outfitted with a Wall Street-style LED stock ticker, interactive display wall and Bloomberg terminals, the space allows professors to bring the real world into the classroom and provides students with access to an array of tools used by the world’s leading banks, corporations and government agencies.
Throughout the building, formal instruction areas are complemented by a variety of “sticky spaces” that foster collaboration and cross-pollination of skills. The faculty offices were organized along the interior east and west edges of the U-shaped building and look out onto a south-facing courtyard, which provides respite from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding urban environment. An adjacent two-story atrium—perfect for accommodating small team building activities or hosting larger events—also overlooks the greenspace.
“This is the first major facility that Wayne State University has constructed off its main campus,” said SmithGroup project designer, Bob Varga. “We wanted to celebrate this move and help the school take advantage of its presence in The District Detroit. Many aspects of the design—particularly the use of floor-to-ceiling glass along the most heavily trafficked elevations—puts learning on display and showcases the activity taking place within.”
Also unique to the school is the fourth-floor terrace that overlooks Brush Park and downtown Detroit and the 260-seat Lear Auditorium, which is equipped with state-of-the-art AV technology and a stage large enough to showcase full-sized vehicles for automotive industry related events. These amenities and other spaces can be used to host a range of student, alumni and community events.
The facility opened to students on August 29, 2018 and is one in nearly a dozen SmithGroup-designed higher education projects to be completed this year.
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