Building a University – How 5 California Schools Approach Campus Design

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Building a University - How 5 California Schools Approach Campus Design

How do universities build identity? How much of a school’s identity is bound up with its academic achievements, and what else may account for it? This is the first in a two-part essay about campus architecture and planning.

A school is more than just the sum of its intellectual records. Its legacy is very much tied to a physical place: its campus. More than a mascot or a symbol, the design of a campus and the buildings that form it greatly contribute to a university’s lasting identity.

The key, then, is how a school’s material identity advances its intellectual mission. As with any large institution, one imagines that the building of a university begins with a master plan. However, when the goal is to foster intellectual work and community, the concept of a master plan must be expanded to include distinctly intellectual components. For example, academic buildings often physically symbolize the type of scholarly exploration and research that takes place therein.

Administrative centers, on the other hand, anchor the more idealistic work taking place in the lecture and science wings. At the same time, individual buildings can function collectively as didactic forums for the public, demonstrating such principles as energy and water-use efficiencies. Lastly, the circulation between the buildings themselves is important. Open green space, for instance, can accommodate crowds, lectures, and even protests, providing a counterpoint to the more stately, processional routes that crisscross a campus.