Sharon Haar


On her book The City As Campus: Urbanism and Higher Education in Chicago

Cover Interview of October 04, 2011

In a nutshell

The City as Campus is concerned with how higher education is situated within urban environments.

I explore how urban universities’ missions of service, teaching, and research have transformed over time—as they have responded locally to their place and globally to new sites for the production of knowledge in a network society.

As we witness an explosion of universities and campuses nationwide, we are also seeing that urban universities are playing important new roles in shaping the cities outside their walls. Through the development of buildings for themselves and for their neighborhoods, universities are acting as developers, planners, and urban designers. At the same time they are developing new thinking around ideas of urban form and social life.

The City as Campus is a case study of Chicago and its universities.  But it is also indicative of and situated within larger national trends. Urban universities are not just institutions that happen to be in a city; their founding premises and historical trajectories rest on their relationship to the city and its unique conditions, be they social, cultural, physical, economic, etc.

The book is not a comprehensive history of higher education or campus design in Chicago.  Rather, it is a story about specific institutions that can trace their origins to moments of intense urban transformation. In these examples the urban campus is imbricated in the city by virtue of the need to produce urban citizens—and equally importantly, knowledge about social and urban forms that lead to new models of urban planning and design. What binds these unique examples together is what they teach us about the interrelationship of knowledge and urbanism.

As both urban institutions of higher education and spatial practices of campus design, Chicago’s universities evolved in direct relationship to their urban and later metropolitan context. I look at how design, both architectural and urban, is used to represent, negotiate, and influence the relationship between universities and their communities and, ultimately, the success or failure of this exchange.

Through a close analysis of Chicago and its campuses through the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries the book illustrates how higher education specifically, and knowledge more broadly, were integrated into ideas of urban growth and development in what were often tense battles over urban space. The book also illustrates how campus designers integrated the social, spatial, and architectural conditions of the urban milieu into new forms to meet the changing needs of higher education.