The atrium. You can’t help noticing, first of all, the atrium.
With south and east walls of glass and a silky gray-tile floor, Butler Atrium, the main entrance and concourse of the School of Law’s new Sumner M. Redstone Building, marks the new edifice’s first improvement on LAW’s old, cramped tower. Today’s dedication of the building officially inaugurates the next generation of legal education at BU.
Redstone (Hon.’94), head of CBS and Viacom and a former teacher at LAW, gave $18 million toward his namesake building, which will allow BU’s aspiring legal eagles some desperately needed and improved space to stretch their wings. The old tower’s woes included insufficient study areas and meeting places, classrooms with bad acoustics and poor views because of tiered seating, ancient heating, air-conditioning, roof, and windows, and interminable waits for an elevator, a function of some classes being as airborne as the 15th floor of the 18-story structure.
The tower itself is closed for renovations until next fall. Once reopened, it will be home to mostly administrative and faculty offices and moot courtrooms. Teaching will shift to the Redstone Building, where the 15 classrooms, seating from 28 to 141 students, “all will be equipped with the latest technology, excellent sight lines, and state-of-the-art acoustics,” says Maureen O’Rourke, dean of LAW.
As one example of the building’s tech-friendly approach to learning, classroom desks have pop-up plug-ins for student laptops. (The tower’s classrooms forced students to rely on batteries or else juice up their machines in outlets outside of class before instruction began.)
Heating and cooling systems are obviously new at the 100,000-square-foot Redstone Building. As for those pesky elevator waits at the old beanstalk building, the horizontally designed Redstone has only five floors, and “only the transactional law seminar and breakout rooms are above the fourth floor,” O’Rourke says. “Many classrooms are on the first and second floors.” Every floor is accessible by stairs, as well as by the new building’s two elevators.
Although squatting in the shadow of the old tower, the Redstone Building’s many windows, ample lighting, and open-space interior shower the inside with light. Constructed of German limestone, glass, and metal, the new building includes the following highlights:
The first floor has a lounge in the atrium, lockers for every student (spread out, rather than lumped together as they were in the old tower’s basement, creating a traffic jam many mornings), the Student Government Association office, and three classrooms, situated behind extra glass doors to deflect noise from the busy atrium.
Second floor amenities are highlighted by a student lounge-cum-café that offers great views of the Charles River and serves breakfast, lunch, and snacks. It also has refrigerators and microwaves for do-it-yourself meal prep. The Pappas Law Library’s reading, reserve, and circulation department rooms are also on this floor.
The third floor includes a spacious reading room above the Charles, the Career Development and Public Service office, a printing center, interview rooms for students huddling with employers, and training rooms for library research and other classes. For just this academic year, there is a meeting suite for student organizations.
The fourth floor is classroom central, with the most classrooms (eight) of any floor. There are group study rooms here as well.
The fifth floor boasts a practice courtroom, as well as one classroom and several administrative offices.
“I feel very good about having the building named after me,” Redstone told BU Today when he donated money for the construction two years ago. “I feel a very close relationship with Boston University,” referring to his three years on the faculty in the 1980s, his daughter’s attending LAW, his honorary degree from BU, and the annual film festival he sponsors at the College of Communication. “It’s a great law school,” he added.
Functional shortcomings aside, the old tower may have become the victim of changing tastes in architecture. Built in 1961, its Brutalist style—angular, concrete, and rough—won it the American Architecture Award. But some in later generations soured on its look—one student, summing up LAW in 2005 to the raters at the Princeton Review, said, “great teachers, ugly building.”
The dedication of the Redstone Building is at 2:30 p.m. today, Friday, September 19, in the Butler Atrium. LAW Dean Maureen O’Rourke, BU President Robert A. Brown, and Judge Sandra Lynch (LAW’71) will speak.