When officials at the University of South Carolina School of Business found a donor interested in building an iconic school with her name on it, they were elated. But when they let Darla Moore choose the architect, they stepped into a hornet's nest that has architects in the Palmetto State ready to sting.

South Carolina state procurement code states that projects valued at more than $25,000 must go through a competitive-bid process and have a selection committee that creates a short list of candidates ranked in order of preference. The business school followed the process for the $90 million building, but it didn't release the list. Instead, it announced last week that New York–based Rafael Viñoly Architects—which was among the finalists, according to The State—would be awarded the contract.

When asked about the announcement, Ashby Gressette, senior vice president at Stevens & Wilkinson, the Columbia, S.C., firm that would work as associate architect with Viñoly, answered like a quintessential Southern gentleman: "I don't want to step on anybody else, so I'll just say we're delighted to be associated with them and are looking forward to the project." Calls to the rejected firms were not returned.

"We're investigating how we're going to proceed," says Adrienne Montare, executive director of the AIA South Carolina. "We are thrilled [Moore is] willing to spend her own money on great architecture, but are concerned about the impact it has on our members. My next step is contacting the institute's national office, and my executive committee is trying to decide how we might act. This is unprecedented."