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Campus case studies

University Architecture By Brian Edwards. E & FN Spon, 2001. 164pp. £60

Ofall the inventions of western culture, the university is perhaps its greatest and its most enduring. From its origins in 11th century Italy to the present day, the university has been characterized by diverse communities of scholars who have maintained an everchanging relationship with society, which in turn has produced architectural responses of staggering variety. Brian Edwards' handsome volume is a bold attempt to classify this huge global corpus.

Given Edwards' previous publications on building types, it is no surprise to find that his approach is obsessively typological, but such doggedness imparts real clarity to the text, marshalling diverse material into a neat and accessible form.

The text falls into two distinct sections, one classifying campus 'types' and the other building 'types', wherein each chapter is supplemented by a range of case studies. This simple formula works remarkably well and is reinforced by Edwards' refreshingly clear literary style.

Despite University Architecture being lavishly illustrated (including some delightfully reworked sketch plans by the author), and Spon's uncharacteristic ambition to produce a 'designed object', the author has not been well served by his publisher.

In a volume costing a hefty £60 it is simply unacceptable to use, twice, the same undistinguished photograph of Cape Town University. Nor has the copy editing been up to scratch: the Chicago Tribune Building becomes 'Tribute', the architect AustinSmith: Lord becomes 'Austin: Smith-Lord'.

Moreover, a modest but idiosyncratic index places Basil Spence and Partners under 'B' but Spence himself under 'S'.

Although an introductory chapter attempts to position the university phenomenon within a context of history and culture, the author is best when identifying exemplary practice in campus design and university buildings from the last quarter of the 20th century. In this respect, the text is overtly non-theoretical and becomes a useful design manual for students or practising architects unfamiliar with the genre.

But most emphatically, this book should be required reading for all university estates officers and their committees. Such bodies invested with the task of procuring university buildings would do well to heed Edwards' sage advice, which provides an effective and accessible framework for their decisionmaking.

As Edwards indicates, most post-war university masterplans have succumbed to 'ad hoc-ism', where localized building needs are met without concern for maintaining the ethos of the original plan. This, and accommodating the motor car, have, he says, been 'the most important factors in the destruction of collegiate architecture' (vide Austin-Smith: Lord's crass insertion of peripheral multi-storey car parks at the University of Manchester).

To the student of architecture, the real fascination of university buildings is their representation, in microcosm, of a national architectural mainstream that no other institution so readily demonstrates.

This phenomenon is well articulated by Edwards, but his vision of a future where only those universities which procure 'signature' buildings with manifestly green credentials will attract the most gifted students and staff, seems rather fanciful. In today's hugely competitive higher education marketplace, performance indicators in teaching and research inevitably transcend any perception of architectural quality.

Peter Fawcett is professor of architecture at the University of Nottingham and co-author of Campus Critique: The Architecture of the University of Nottingham

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