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hen he was a co-chair of the Glion Colloquium, a biennial “Davos-like” meeting of university presidents, James Duderstadt noticed an increasing convergence among research universities around the world, such that the “National University of Singapore is beginning to sound more like the University of Munich [which] is beginning to sound more like Berkeley.” The Bologna Process, which restructured European tertiary education along American lines, is a salient example of this international homogenization and commodification of higher education. This state of affairs and the university’s metamorphosis into something akin to a transnational corporation has been a subject of much critique. Reminding us that the modern university emerged in 19th-century Prussia as a decidedly national project, Francesco Zuddas’ The University as a Settlement Principle recounts a spatial variant of this critique. Against the contemporary narrative of international convergence, he highlights a historical instance of national intransigence; though the namesake of the process of European standardization in the American mould is Italian, Italy’s recent past holds a disquietistic architectural episode during which university development shied away from American and European models and refused to conform to their paradigms.
The book’s focus is the post-1968 moment and the attempts of Italian architects to intervene in the higher education landscape of their booming postwar nation. By analyzing four Italian university campus design competitions in the half decade after the tumultuous year, Zuddas seeks to show how campus design mediated between architecture, politics, and pedagogy. He contends that triangulating between university, architectural, and urban design makes sense not only because they are “three objects connected by the shared property of designability” (p. 8-9), but also because studying universities gives us insight into architectural and urban theory. Challenging the adage that the university is a city in miniature (and thereby autonomous from the city), Zuddas’ formulation of the university as a “settlement principle” (which he borrows from one of the architects who are the subjects of his book) sees it in “constant dialectical relation” with urban and regional formations. In this regard, his premise is similar to Sharon Haar’s in The City as Campus. It is not surprising then to see that both Zuddas and Haar begin their books with Bill Readings’ lamentation of the cooption of the university by capitalist logics. If university development cannot be extricated from urban development, then the former is hardly immune from capitalist appropriation, something which Christine Boyer shows took place with city planning during the first half of the last century. Like Haar’s Chicagoan account, Zuddas’ is a mid-20th century architectural story of universities grappling with their presence and potential roles in several Italian cities.
Design After Crisis
Though the postwar university development flurry was not unique to Italy, Zuddas points out that the projects he focuses on have the distinction of taking place after 1968. Unlike the new institutions and campuses in Western Europe and North America that had to adapt to a novel sociopolitical milieu in the aftermath of the student uprisings, the Italian projects were designs attuned to such a milieu. Here was an opportunity to build universities post-crisis as opposed to repurposing pre-crisis designs. Furthermore, the Italian government did not have a concrete agenda for higher education reform and expansion, thereby freeing architects to propose their own visions for the future of higher education in Italy. Zuddas shows how campus designers reacted to the efflorescence of anti-establishment sentiments and the national uncertainty around higher educational reform.
His book comprises two overlapping parts. The first is a chronological account of design competitions for universities in the cities of Florence, Cagliari, Calabria, and Salerno which took place between 1970 and 1973. He contextualizes this production – situating it within the international campus planning discourse and Italian debates on urbanism and higher education – before proceeding to formal analysis. Zuddas is not the first to discuss these projects together as an architectural moment, but his book can be understood as a scholarly elaboration of Carlo Aymonino’s abridged commentary on the first three competitions in the defunct journal Zodiac—an elaboration Zuddas first piloted in the pages of AA Files. In its tight focus on competition briefs and entries, Part I of Zuddas’ book is reminiscent of Manfredo Tafuri’s examination of the Chicago Tribune Tower design competition and the development of Rockefeller Center.
The second part is a series of relatively independent vignettes focused on praxis and discourse; he delves into the experiences and thinking of four sets of architects who submitted entries to one or more of the competitions, showcasing four variant positions on the intersection of theory, politics, and university design. In its attempt to paint a picture of architectural discourse through portraits of four major architectural protagonists, Part II is reminiscent of the tapestry of modernism Anthony Vidler weaves through the oeuvres of four architectural historians in Histories of the Immediate Present. It is in this second part that we realize that the book revolves around five cities, not four—the fifth being Milan, the site of much pedagogical agitation that influenced the architectural production involving the cities to its south. In essence, while the earlier part focuses on the intersection of form with policy and urbanity, the latter part shifts to a focus on form’s intersections with pedagogy and ideology. Though Zuddas begs the reader’s pardon for the repetition that results from this bipartite structure, I found that the book scarcely suffered from any redundancy, especially since the deep dives of the latter half complemented the breadth of the first.
Zuddas begins Part I with a brief but somewhat revisionist history of campus planning, one that is explicitly not a “history of enclosures,” for though the campus may be commonly understood as a closed and self-contained space, it originated as “an open-ended spatial diagram” (p. 24). This chronicle is patently selective, if not tendentious, but does set the ground for his centering of the authorial architectural subject for whom campus design becomes a medium for societal transformation. Moving from Thomas Jefferson’s design for the University of Virginia through the “British season of university building in the 1960s” to Cedric Price’s radical piece of paper architecture Potteries Thinkbelt, Zuddas sees a long lineage of architecture engaging higher education as an apt proxy for broader concerns; architects had long leveraged universities as testing grounds for urban planning ideas. This came to a head in the mid-20th century, a period in which university design embodied the architectural zeitgeist. Campuses became “the spatial products through which the architecture community could prove a thesis” (p. 41).
Answering Italy’s Urban Question
In the postwar Italian context, universities succeeded business districts as the mediums of urban design and experimentation. A national debate on the “urban dimension” saw factions divided between interest in the urban planning-oriented city-region versus the urban design-oriented city-territory. In this indeterminacy, architects saw an opportunity to revolutionize urbanism, especially since they considered “multi-scalar thinking an imperative to cope with the ultimate exhaustion of the significance of the very word ‘city’” (p. 41). No matter that they were ostensibly designing campuses, the centrality of urban theorization to their work was patent.
This architectural-urban prerogative was abetted by the public uncertainty around higher education and what Zuddas characterizes as the insipid governmental efforts to reform the tertiary system. He explains that these efforts exhibited a “contradictory attitude of advocating change from within a substantial confirmation of the status quo” (p. 59). Adding fuel to the fire were the student revolts of the 1960s, which complicated the attempts at higher education reform. As the political establishment punted on this issue, institutions turned to architects, handing them the responsibility to address it. University design became a charge to tackle Italy’s pressing urban and higher educational questions. To borrow Tom Holert's words, architecture saw to educationalizing the crisis.
A string of four “international” competitions in the early 1970s proffered complex and, at times, nebulous briefs seeking architectural solutions to open-ended questions around institutions in four Italian cities. Rather than responding straightforwardly to the briefs, in the cases when such a thing was even possible, the largely Italian cadre of respondents jumped at them as opportunities to pursue their territorial development agendas. Zuddas argues that these architects were more comfortable operating in terms of urbanism since the vast majority were unprepared to design universities. Though by no means comprehensive, the book’s reproductions of the competition entries reveal how much of this dissonance was on display in the architects’ production. Many of the submissions were at the scale of the city or the region in question, a scale so large that they appeared to be urban design diagrams rather than schematic designs for architectural propositions. The competitions became a “confrontation between ideas on the city – with university design, once again, acting as just a pretext” (p. 84). It was only a disciplinary takeover by “technologist-productivist reasoning,” exemplified by the Salerno brief (which was won by an engineer), that put an end to the Italian architects’ urban fixation. They became too preoccupied with defending their formal, humanist understanding of the discipline against the encroachment of a techno-scientific ethos to care about asserting the need for urbanism over mere campus building.
Of Ideology and Pedagogy
Zuddas’ book is essentially about a postwar disciplinary community that “tried to reflect upon itself by looking at their own images – of themselves as men and as architects – in a renewed mirror of higher education” (p. 205). Concerned chiefly with urbanism and its discontents, the Italian architects of the period eschewed the discrete campus; their projects were about the “city-as-university” as opposed to the university-as-city, especially in its archetypal (American) “pavilions-in-the-park” form. For the formalists amongst them like Vittorio Gregotti and Giuseppe Samona, “it was largely an intellectual anxiety about the status of the theory and practice of architecture that defined the raison d’etre of their projects” (p. 119). Though they saw in the university design projects an ideal opportunity to showcase architecture’s “re-signifying capacity,” Zuddas reveals the contradictions inscribed in their aspirational designs. Despite their professed exasperation with the status quo, their radical (re)designs of the Italian university, in the end, simply served to reassert state hegemony and defuse the revolutionary potential they had sought to leverage. In all their supposed newness, these universities were nonetheless conceived as paternalistic “professionalising institutions.”
As a counterpoint to this “false consciousness,” radical design collective Archizoom had little interest in wasting everyone’s time trying to provide architectural signification when everything, including the city and the university, was simply subject to capitalist commodification. Much of their submission to the University of Florence competition comprised large-scale diagrams of building functions rather than actual architectural schemes. Zuddas correlates their approach with Ivan Illich’s critique of schooling and what he termed its “manipulative treatment-institutions.” In their attempt to free higher education from its preconceived frames, Archizoom’s prescription was not chaos but simultaneity, a depiction of “informality not as spatial anarchy in the name of individual freedom but as the careful orchestration of [spatial] elements” and affordances (p. 153). Campus design was clearly a testing ground for the collective’s radical ideas on urbanism, as we learn that their famous conceptual project, No-Stop City, was co-constituted with their university competition entry.
In a similar antiestablishment vein, architect Giancarlo De Carlo agitated against the societal status quo. His goal was to design for the “de-institutionalisation of values,” including pedagogical ones. The university offered him “the key to understanding how the consolidation of a consumerist mass society required a complete change in the ways that knowledge was produced and diffused” (p. 160). Drawing a connection between the school and the prison, he sought to decouple education from its buildings, freeing learning from circumscribed, static space. Here Zuddas' account sheds light on a little-known historical effort to decarceralize education, something which resonates with today’s growing interest in carceral studies.
For a short while, this restless spirit found an institutional home in Milan’s faculty of architecture. The site of a “Milanese revolution” in architectural pedagogy, the school was home to disciplinary figures like Paolo Portoghesi and Aldo Rossi. Zuddas focuses on Guido Canella’s pedagogical experiments at the school. Research-based urban studios were critical to the school’s critique of staid disciplinary frameworks like morphology and typology: “A way out of such simplification was offered by the complexity of the functions of a modern city, where any definite taxonomy no longer held true” (p. 189). Zuddas sees in the turn from deductive to inductive pedagogy a reflection of John Dewey’s concept of progressive education. Understanding both the school and the city as a “theatrical multiplicity,” Canella set up a sequence of studios that increasingly engaged with urban collectivity, starting with designing a school, then a theater, and culminating with a university. When Calabria’s competition was announced, Canella channeled this school-based ferment towards that real life project, proposing a campus as an “anti-city,” that is, a heterotopic space for counter forms of urban existence. He did not win.
Through Campus, the City
In his study of campus design at a particular moment in modern Italian history, Zuddas comes to a conclusion about architecture’s societal agency similar to Joy Knoblauch’s in her recently-published book on architecture’s engagement with psychology: “Within the general striving for homogenisation of European higher education, the prospect of an ‘original’ Italian ‘take’ dissipated together with a steep fall into the abyss of the architect as a figure trusted with vast social responsibility” (p. 109). His book traces a euphoric architectural moment leading to the discipline’s coming to terms with the limits of its agency in reshaping the urban environment. Though one way to read this account is as yet another confirmation of Cedric Price's famous dictum that architecture is not always the solution to a problem, the picture that emerges illustrates less the futility of earnest design efforts seeking radical reform than their enduring productivity.
Though Zuddas declines to ascribe any contemporary relevance to his account, some links can certainly be drawn to current discourses around design and the university. For one, he provides us with a fleshed-out precedent for committed professional architectural responses to calls for recognizing and deploying the sociopolitical agency of both the university and the design professions. Such calls have recently been made by academics like Ananya Roy and Jonathan Massey for whom the university cannot be neutralized as a terrain for politics. Zuddas’ account can also be read as a historical portrait of an architecture that does not shy away from crisis, that is, as a set of models for taking up Scott Deisher’s call for a crisis-engaged architectural discipline in resistance to the overbearing legacy of hermetically-sealed architectural criticism, a retreat embodied for Deisher by no other than Tafuri. In other words, the Italian design endeavours traced by Zuddas constituted criticism in practice during a time of crisis from which today’s architects can learn if they are to confront the crises of our own time.
Disparate as they appear at first glance, these works constitute a critique of the insular university, a push back against an institutional and spatial complex understood as “a place apart,” to use Robert Stern’s expression. Rather, the university, as much as the city, is a domain of sociopolitical ferment; in its design and operation, it cannot but engage with the city. If Haar’s conceptualization of the campus can be thought of as ‘of the city, the campus,’ Zuddas’ may thus be encapsulated: ‘through campus, the city.’ To riff on Pier Vittorio Aureli’s view of “the city as a project,” i.e. a purposive techno-political undertaking, we may think of the campus as a project by, of, and for the city. These accounts reiterate not only that the space and spatialization of the university are necessarily political, but that architects have been (and can still be) political agents in their capacity as form-givers to that space.
More than Generalists Par Excellence?
For all its strengths, Zuddas’ book had me wondering about particular aspects of this history. Despite the assertion that architects of the period were more wrapped up in issues of the city than of the university, the vignettes in Part II show how keenly interested many key architects were in the question of education and its reform—and in the spatial dimension of such a prospect, alongside the “urban dimension” which he reiterates was at the forefront of the Italian architectural discourse of the period. In fact, it is not clear whether the architects truly lacked the requisite expertise to design campuses – which coincidentally was the claim that Achyut Kanvinde and James Miller made in the 1960s about the Indian architects of the period – or were simply more interested in urban design.
Perhaps the narrative’s graphic accompaniment could have helped address this question. The book could use more illustrations (and larger ones at that), taking into account the scalar difference between campuses and buildings. When campus design becomes coextensive with urban design, as Zuddas demonstrates, the difference in scale is even larger—and the details of the drawings are much more difficult to read. I wonder about the extent to which the choice and character of reproduced images occlude the campus designers’ architectural decisions in order to emphasize their schemes’ urban dimension. It is true that the urban and the architectural are not mutually exclusive, but it would have been worthwhile to highlight in more detail those designs that endeavored to operate at both resolutions.
Be that as it may, Zuddas’ book is an excellent examination of a little-known moment in campus design history. Taking seriously the charge to design the spatial previews of a nation’s higher educational future meant that many of the architects involved in these projects were immersed in debates around what it means to teach and learn in the context of the modern nation-state. Zuddas does a commendable job of tying together developments in pedagogy broadly with the specifics of campus design as they manifested in his chosen cases. His account of campus design provides an intriguing spatial lens through which to read the postwar growing pains of a nation amongst nations. It is a welcome addition to the international post-WWII campus planning corpus currently headlined by Stefan Muthesius’ The Postwar University and Carlos Garciavelez Alfaro’s Form and Pedagogy.
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Bader AlBader is a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan whose work examines spaces and institutions of higher education and the ways in which they contribute to the development of cities and states, particularly in the Arab World. He is also interested in issues of multilingualism, transregionalism, and translation, especially as they relate to academic production.