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Farmer School of Business, Miami University, Oxford, OH

Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP, New York, NY: Robert A.M. Stern, senior partner; Graham S. Wyatt, AIA, LEED AP, project partner; Preston J. Gumberich, partner, project architect

Moody Nolan, Inc., Columbus, OH; Robert K. Larrimer, AIA, LEED AP, director of architecture

Monarch Construction Company, Cincinnati, OH LEED

By Lynne Lavelle

According to the poet Robert Frost, Miami University in Oxford, OH, has "the most beautiful campus there is." It is also one of the oldest, and was little more than a simple log cabin when it was chartered in 1809, five years before the founding of the University of Virginia. The Ohio territories remained largely undeveloped at the time, and it was named for the Miami Indian Tribe that inhabited the area. The university soon expanded with two simple but elegant brick buildings, which still stand, and later with a series of fine Georgian Revival designs. Today, the campus form a stylistically coherent bond with the nearby town's wide main street, shops along both sides, and central town square.

"Miami is blessed with a particularly attractive composition of 'town and gown,'" says Graham S. Wyatt of Robert A. M. Stern Architects. "The campus buildings and quadrangles have a comfortable scale and relate naturally to the town of Oxford, its main street, and its town square."

At the heart of the campus, Cook Field is anchored at one corner by a brick bell tower and now, at the north end, by the recently completed Farmer School of Business. The 231,000-sq.ft. building was a collaboration between Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York City and Moody Nolan, Inc., of Columbus, OH, and provides a state-of-the-art home on the east quad for all aspects of the university's business program. "The school of business used to be in two buildings, and additionally, some classes were scattered throughout the campus," says Robert Larrimer, director of architecture at Moody Nolan. "The university wanted to consolidate into a single facility with a small food service component, where students could have closer interaction with each other and with the faculty to increase their extend learning time."

The school's three wings form three sides of a new quadrangle opening to the south and its façades continue the campus' vocabulary of Colonial-Georgian red brick, painted trim and slate roofing. Inside, spaces are arranged to promote teamwork, experiential learning and student-faculty interaction. From a colonnaded porch, the main entrance leads to Forsythe Commons, a large, comfortably furnished room with power access for laptops, technical support and a printer room. Beyond, the double-height, cupola-topped Great Hall leads to the student service and dining areas. Large classrooms, faculty offices and the dean's suite are also contained within this central block, while adjacent wings accommodate six cluster classrooms, small break-out rooms for class or team meetings, a trading room, and a 150-seat auditorium. At the far end of the east wing, the 515-seat David R. Taylor Auditorium provides space for large lectures, guest speakers and major events, and is accessible from Oxford's High Street.

As the other campus buildings are considerably smaller and lower in height, the school's size was an initial concern. "This is a large building for the Miami campus," says Wyatt. "Many of Miami's older buildings are one tenth its size, so we organized the new Farmer School as a series of wings and pavilions, connected by colonnades, 'hyphens,' and courtyards – we think of it as several buildings that are connected."

Several large classrooms are below grade, giving the appearance of four stories, while visual cues such as columned porches, gambrel roofs, balustrades, colonnades, cupolas and entrances maintain a human scale. "By accommodating those spaces within the basement, the scale is consistent with surrounding buildings," says Larrimer. "It's also an advantage for the rooms that don't particularly want natural daylight, as they have a lot of technology, projection equipment and screens. These work well in an environment without windows, while all of the offices and the public common spaces are located on the upper levels and receive natural light."

Besides the physical requirements of the school, a core principle of the design program was that the building should foster academic excellence, serve as a recruiting tool, and elevate the university as a whole. "Our work supports an important symbolic program: the building represents the school and conveys its institutional stature," says Wyatt. "The Farmer School has prominent and highly-ranked degree programs and the school's leaders felt, quite rightly, that the hodgepodge of facilities in which they were previously housed represented them poorly and did not suit the ways that students now study and learn most effectively."

The Farmer School of Business' energy-efficient lighting, heating and air-conditioning systems earned the building a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification – the first on Miami University's campus. "Smart" HVAC and lighting systems conserve energy, while low-flow faucets and toilets, as well as rainwater-management downspouts and landscaping conserve water. In addition, approximately 90% of the materials from Reid Hall, a residence hall that was demolished to make way for the new facility, were reused, and most of the other materials used were local to the site. The building adds density to the center of the campus and the town, with no additional car traffic. On-site showers encourage students and faculty to ride their bicycles.

"I'm very proud," says Wyatt. "The new Farmer School demonstrates compellingly that environmentally-sustainable design has nothing to do with the architectural imagery of a building. People look at the new Farmer School and say, 'It looks like a building seated firmly in the traditions of this historic campus, and it is also at the forefront of energy- and resource-efficiency.'"

Key suppliers for the project included The Bowerston Shale Co. of Bowerston, OH, who supplied brick; Ludowici Roof Tile of New Lexington, OH; EDON Fiberglass of Horsham, PA, who supplied columns, cornices and railings; Eagle Windows and Doors of Dubuque, IA; and Eggers Industries of Two River, WI, who supplied doors.

As Miami University campus is home to many mature trees, sensitivity to landscape was of paramount importance during both the design and construction phases. A giant sweet-gum tree, which is reputed to date back to the founding of the university, continues to hold pride of place in the courtyard, and paving was kept to a minimum to ensure maximum possible green space around the building. "The trees were a marvelous challenge," says Wyatt. "When we were done, the building immediately looked as though it had been there for a century, which was the goal." The landscape designer was James Burkart Associates, Inc.of Westerville, OH.

Since completion in 2009, the Farmer School of Business has attracted a steady stream of visitors, as well as delighted students and faculty members. Roger L. Jenkins, professor and dean of the Farmer School of Business, says, "Thanks to the vision and generosity of our many donors, the Farmer School now occupies a building that supports 21st century business education, serves as a model of environmental stewardship, fosters real community, and helps the school make connections across the Miami campus and far beyond."  TB


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