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Campus Critique: The Architecture of the University of Nottingham

by A Peter Fawcett and Neil Jackson. The Sherwood Press, 1999. £15

There is the view that the university campus should embody the ideals upon which higher education is based, writes Brian Edwards. These are essentially that education is about creating a community of learning where research and teaching exist in a well-defined physical framework which itself ennobles the process. Not many modern universities achieve much distinction in this respect, and the current expansion in student numbers coupled with reduced resources makes the task doubly difficult. Most twentieth- century university foundations have buildings of distinction but are rarely 'places of learning' in the broad sense. Nottingham is perhaps an exception.

Campus Critique charts the expansion of Nottingham University from its beginnings as a university college in 1881, via its foundation as a civic university in 1948, up to Michael Hopkins and Partners' new green campus on the brownfield Raleigh Gearbox site. (Pictured above is Morley Horder's Trent Building, 1922).

Two things emerge from the tale told eloquently by Peter Fawcett and Neil Jackson: first, that campuses are a wonderful place to learn about the changing ideals of modern architecture - from Continental modernism to late-modern sustainable. Second, that place-making is more important than buildings and in this it has been the vice-chancellors, not architects or estate managers, who have taken the lead.

The book is easy on the eye and written in a fashion which will appeal to the casual reader. The structure is chronological and, while this makes for a smooth sense of progression, it also allows for a few key issues to be identified along the way - for example, the 'two cultures' (as the authors put it) of rational engineer-based buildings and those which seek picturesque enclosure. This comes and goes as a theme, however, and must await another book to be cemented into an argument about the nature of the twentieth-century campus.

Holford called Nottingham a 'fruit cocktail of a campus' and this book shows what a refreshing dessert that can be.

Brian Edwards is professor of architecture at the University of Huddersfield

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