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”Their desired program is bound to exceed the space allocated by the university which is why it’s crucial to agree on overarching goals to ensure the needs of the department as a whole are met.” – E. Chloe Lauer

Stanford, CA – 2009


In 2009, the Stanford University Art & Art History Department found themselves at a crossroads – culturally and physically. The department’s scope had recently expanded to include Film Studies and Film Production, in addition to Art Practice and Art History. This shift inspired a new look at vision, values, and priorities. Then, the prospect of moving to a new site and design an ideal new facility from scratch demanded an updated and detailed articulation of all departmental activities and the associated space required to house them.   Harnessing this transitional moment would require clear direction, which was challenging given the collection of independently-minded art faculty and the uncertainty of the relationships between and among art practice, art history, film studies and film production. The department was concerned that without a definitive vision, they would miss this monumental opportunity to relocate and consolidate their programs into one centralized facility and, more importantly, to redefine their role on campus and transform from a place to take some art classes to a leading arts destination.


MKThink Strategy first performed extensive data collection and detailed analyses of the department’s current spatial organization, functions, and facilities and presented their findings to the core team, which was made up of key decisions makers at the University level as well as respected faculty representatives from the range of disciplines within the department. While many members of the core team were eager to begin defining requirements for the new building and its component spaces, the MKThink Strategy team stayed true to its established process and convictions that its necessary to fully understand today’s situation before making plans for the future. Only after key utilization, occupancy, and adjacency findings are understood can a vision for the ideal future configuration begin to emerge.   MKThink Strategy’s team found that:

  • The department had outgrown the constraints of the current buildings, which are spread throughout campus, diluting the energy and culture of the department
  • Current interaction spaces will not be able to support the department’s vision in which successful interaction spaces are a critical element of the new building
  • The teaching studios have not been able to adapt to today’s pedagogies
  • Classrooms don’t support the range of uses required
  • Student space are limited to individual work spaces

The faculty identified a number of areas requiring improvement, and the core team outlined key issues to resolve in order to have a clear design direction.   Out of these findings, the core team developed a set of Guiding Principles that will shape the development of the new facility from initial planning and programming through design, building, and move in. The top line Guiding Principles are:

  • Encourage a culture of interaction across programs
  • Acknowledge the uniqueness of each program
  • Be a resource for the University as a visual arts and scholarship destination
  • Create a building that matters

These principles address the relationships among and between the programs, uphold the distinctiveness of each program individually, address the department’s role within the University, and set a high bar for the significance of the building’s architecture.


With MKThink Strategy’s support, the department – a diverse set of people and curriculums occupying several facilities scattered across the university grounds – was able to come together around a shared and inspiring vision and then define a strategy that supports the effective delivery of the department’s programs. Together with the core team, MKThink Strategy developed a conceptual organizational model for the entire facility and further defined the character of key spaces so that the eventual architect will be able to seamlessly evolve the project through the design phase and into successful building, an anchor for the department and the embodiment of a fine arts presence on campus.