Promoting Community, Preparing for the Future

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Monday, May 1, 2023
By Jim Dewald, Leighton Wilks
The atrium at Mathison Hall (Photo by Adrian Shellard)
The University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business builds a future-proof new home designed to strengthen relationships among all stakeholders.
  • Classrooms in the new Mathison Hall feature flexible formats to promote collaboration and videoconferencing capabilities that enhance accessibility.
  • “Collision spaces” such as glass-walled study rooms, a grand staircase, and student lounges allow people to connect, collaborate, and discuss big ideas.
  • Specialized spaces such as an intimate circular meeting room and a larger auditorium provide opportunities for the business community to convene on campus.

Business school deans must manage fiscal budgets, handle accreditation efforts, and meet faculty and student needs, while also facing constant pressures from the provost, president, and community leaders. Why would any sane dean add a building project on top of that load?

At the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, we undertook such a project because we believed that the struggles would be justified by the genuine satisfaction of creating something that makes a difference. We know that a school’s physical space plays an important but often overlooked role in the student experience—as important as faculty expertise, course content, experiential learning opportunities, and extracurricular activities.

Our existing facility, Scurfield Hall, had been constructed in 1986, and by the late 2010s, it was clear that it no longer suited our needs. Because our student population had grown exponentially since that time, students were forced to take most of their classes in buildings across the university. We felt they were losing out on the full experience of having an academic “home.”

We announced plans for the new facility in 2018, well before the arrival of COVID-19, but the pandemic provided us with many key insights on how the building should be designed to stay ahead of changing styles of teaching and learning. We wanted Mathison Hall—which fills 100,000 square feet and is spread over four stories—to represent the future of business education. Therefore, it seemed fitting that the new facility would officially open in 2023 for in-person classes.

The Why Behind the Building

Before we even began to design the new hall, we made sure to articulate the “why” behind our decisions. We soon distilled our reasons into two components. We wanted to create a future-proof building that would reflect the evolving needs of students, and we wanted to create a space for the larger business community to convene. As we made every design choice, we considered how it would help us build relationships among stakeholders now, as well as how it would serve us in the future.

To create a sense of community, we designed classrooms that facilitate the instructor-student relationship, “collision spaces” that encourage students to interact with peers, and gathering spaces that are open to local business leaders. We also made certain that Mathison Hall seamlessly connected to Scurfield Hall.

We wanted to create a future-proof building that would reflect the evolving needs of students, and we wanted to create a space for the larger business community to convene.

To ensure that the facility would serve students for generations to come, we reflected on the future of our home city. Calgary, which is Canada’s energy hub, is experiencing a transitional shift from the traditional energy industry to the tech innovation space. Therefore, we felt it was important for the next generation of Calgary’s business leaders to receive their training in a sustainable building. Mathison Hall was constructed to target LEED Platinum Certification for Building Design and Construction from the U.S. Green Business Council and the Zero Carbon Building Standard from the Canada Green Building Council.

Tech, Teaching, and Teamwork

We put a special focus on designing classrooms that would strengthen interactions between participants and serve the school well into the future. We also wanted to make sure Haskayne instructors would have opportunities to engage with students in more meaningful ways than the traditional classroom environment allows.

One goal was to create flexible spaces that would be conducive to group collaboration. To accommodate various types of learners as well as different pedagogical approaches, we incorporated a mix of classroom designs, including traditional lecture theaters, tiered pod-style classrooms, and flat classrooms with moveable furniture. The tiered pod-style and flat classrooms effortlessly enable collaboration, connection, and teamwork-based learning because furniture can be reconfigured easily.

Another goal was to promote the use of technology, so the hall contains 12 new tech-enhanced classrooms. Influenced by what we learned during the pandemic about online delivery of education, we made sure every classroom includes built-in cameras and microphones. These videoconferencing capabilities allow us to bring people together even if they are not in the same physical space—students and instructors can participate remotely, and thought leaders can join the classroom from anywhere in the world.

Two of Mathison Hall’s classrooms boast 50-inch TV screens at every student table. Students can use these technologies to share their computer screens, embark on collaboration and ideation with their peers, and create more dynamic presentations.

‘Collison Spaces’ Cultivate Connection

Because business education is rooted so deeply in teamwork, it was a priority for us to carve out plenty of what we call “collision spaces”—areas where people can gather to brainstorm, strategize, collaborate, and discuss big ideas. During the pandemic, when so much learning was remote, people at the school sorely missed these chances to connect with others, deliberately or by happenstance.

The new collision spaces in Mathison Hall include our 24 transparent syndicate rooms. In these intimate glass-walled spaces, students can participate in group work, prepare their presentations, practice interviews, or study peacefully without distraction. In fact, these rooms are the No. 1 attraction of the building, and they were immediately adopted by students within minutes of the hall’s opening. Because of their transparent design, these spaces allow visitors to feel the energy of the building and witness animated discussions coming to life.

In the University of Calgary's "syndicate rooms," students can participate in group work or study without distraction.

Students collaborate in a syndicate room in Mathison Hall. (Photo by Kelly Hofer)

In addition to the syndicate rooms, we prioritized ample touchpoints for socialization and connection. These include the social staircase, the fireplace, the graduate student lounge, the student club room, food service options, study carrels, and various types of seating throughout all four levels of the building. We also relocated our Student Services centers to Mathison Hall so students would find it easy to access critical academic and career services.

By designing these spaces to consider both student needs and the unique fundamentals of business education, we have made Mathison Hall a truly one-stop shop for our students. The many features of the hall encourage them to stay on campus and make the most of their educational experiences.

A Hub for the Business Community

When designing Mathison Hall, we also considered it essential to include physical spaces that would promote interactions with the broader business community. Calgary is one of Canada’s most entrepreneurial cities, and Haskayne has always had a close relationship with local business leaders. We regularly bring members of the business community to campus as guest speakers, mentors, or sessional instructors. These individuals offer incredible insights and expertise to our students and pave the way for valuable networking opportunities.

Now that the new building is open, many of these interactions will take place in the Viewpoint Circle for Dialogue, a 70-person circular room that reimagines the meeting room experience through its United Nations-style approach. The Viewpoint Circle, which could be considered the heart of Mathison Hall, is inspired by Indigenous culture and aims to reflect Haskayne’s core values of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The Viewpoint Circle features a ventilation system that allows for Indigenous smudging ceremonies. The person performing each ceremony burns sacred medicines and prays for negative energy to leave the space and for positive energy to prevail. Since the room is meant to capture diverse perspectives and allow participants to reach new understandings for effective decisions and ethical actions, the practice of smudging helps create an open environment free of negative energy.

Recently, we had the honor of bringing together Ceremonial Elders, Haskayne leaders, students, and donors for an intimate gathering in the Viewpoint Circle for Dialogue. Elder Reg Crowshoe led the event with a smudge, a pipe ceremony, the presentation of a symbolic blanket, and a song gifted to the Haskayne School. The event finalized the “circle of blessings” for the completion of our Mathison Hall project.

Ceremonial Elders hold a smudging ceremony in the Viewpoint Circle for Dialogue at the University of Calgary

Ceremonial Elders hold a smudging ceremony in the Viewpoint Circle for Dialogue (Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary)

To date, we’ve also used this space for networking opportunities, and response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. Guests have noted that the room’s open design creates a safe space where they feel comfortable sharing ideas and having critical conversations.

We also have a dedicated Event Centre that can accommodate 225 people attending a reception-style event or 120 people sitting at round eight-person tables. This room can be divided into two spaces if we want to hold simultaneous events. The Event Centre has already been the site for our Alumni Awards and our inaugural presentation in our “Next Up: The W. David Duckett Speaker Series.” In the future, we will use the space for career fairs, conferences, networking opportunities, case competitions, celebrations, and more. The increased capacity and varied spaces of Mathison Hall will make it easier for us to continue to engage with the community and act as a hub for local business.

A New Era for Business Education

Mathison Hall was several years in the making, and we faced many extraordinary challenges along the way—a global pandemic, supply-chain shortages, and inflationary pressures, to name just a few. However, it was completed on time and on budget, which is a testament to the hard work of many hands.

Walking the corridors of Mathison Hall today, visitors can see how the new building is delivering on its mission of enriching the student experience. They can witness lively team discussions in the syndicate rooms, glimpse moments of connection when students meet between classes and on the stairwell, and feel the palpable energy throughout the building. In the few months since it opened, Mathison Hall has already restored a sense of community for Haskayne as it reunites students at one home base.

It was only possible for us to achieve our vision of a new building by remaining laser-focused on the “why” behind the facility. While it wasn’t always easy to maintain that focus, we’re tremendously proud of the outcome. We designed a building with purposeful physical spaces that will enable our students to shape their own educational experiences—and that will allow the school to flourish well into the future.

Jim Dewald
Dean, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary
Leighton Wilks
Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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