Higher Aims, Highest Collaboration

Arthur F. & Patricia Ryan Center for Business Studies, Providence College
Providence, Rhode Island

In response to the College's desire to create a “community of innovation and impact,” SMMA’s design for the School of Business embraces the metaphor of crossroads/intersections. This layered concept operates on three levels in defining an environment supportive of the rich and complex network of relationships that foster community and the development of leadership skills essential to business innovation and ethical social action.

Occupying the “pedagogical crossroads” between the preceding paradigm—familiarly manifested in the ubiquitous tiered case-study classroom—and new initiatives in active, team, and project challenge-based learning, the design provides a core of seven large, flat-floored rooms that can host a variety of media and mobile furnishing options. These are supported by small team rooms, a large lecture room, and one “transitional” tiered-seating classroom. 

The Center is the first new building to unite the east and west campuses providing a significant transformative presence.


The Business School is not only woven into the fabric of the site but will become the academic nexus of the eastern half of campus. The linear double-height atrium, which through its transparent ends engages the campus to the north and south, expands the intersection of social encounters beyond the formal classroom environments and the Business School itself.

A Landscape of Learning

As an outward extension of the atrium, an inviting raised and planted terrace provides outdoor cafe; seating that overlooks the campus Arts Walk immediately to the south, and links the Business School community with the residential hall and theater quadrangles beyond.

Our design concepts explored and expanded on the idea of the "Atrium," pushing beyond the notion of a static "declarative" space of formal arrival and welcoming, toward a dynamic "interrogative" landscape of learning and possibilities, where the serendipitous energy of the campus courtyards is extended into the building itself. 

This new “landscape”—blending exterior terraces, interior stair/amphitheaters, ramps, and eddies of meeting places—unites the two flanking masonry volumes of program accommodations:  the renovated Dore Hall for the “small-grain,” cellular spaces, and the new addition devoted to “large-grain” formal learning spaces.

The project was never conceived as a “building addition,” but rather a new entity formed of complementary elements that will add its resources to the entire campus.

  • Design drawings
  • Design drawings

Open, Daylit, Inspirational

These elements include a welcoming stair that is also a small seating area, and features two bridges connecting the parallel volumes that efficiently accommodate faculty offices (in a re-purposed former residential hall at the east), and two floors of learning spaces (new long-span construction in a curved bar at the west).

Circulation along the classroom wing is open to the atrium. Atop the transparent elliptical data lab is an open “laptop” lounge—“The Mesa”—while the ground floor provides café and lounge seating overlooking the south campus green. This flexible area can be configured to accommodate 335 seats for special events.

More than a privatized, daylight-gathering circulation area, the atrium creates a complementary interior landscape of fixed destinations and dynamic meeting spaces.

Patterns for Light

The architecture combines a scholastic rigor of expression—as in the articulation between the parallel masonry volumes and intervening transparent envelopes—with unexpected provocations, notably the inflections of the curved geometry of the classroom wing and the atrium’s “random” halo skylights, which bring an ever-changing pattern of daylight into the building’s heart.

Highlights from the opening day of the Ryan Center for Business Studies. Credit Providence College.