Sharon Haar


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

Cover Interview of October 04, 2011

The wide angle

For someone who felt passionately about cities from a very young age, my formal education actually took place away from them. Early on I was aware of the ways in which my context influenced what I was taught and how it was taught to me, and I began to augment my formal education with an informal one exploring the streets, buildings, and institutions of New York City.

The City as Campus was born as my graduate thesis project at Princeton—the design of a curriculum and building for a School of Architecture, Landscape, and Urban Design for the New School for Social Research, which was contemplating a smaller version of just such a program. Later I had the opportunity to actually build the curricular content for this program and to teach in it.

During the period of time this book was in gestation, I had the remarkable opportunity to work at the University of Illinois at Chicago—a large, urban, public, largely-commuter, research university that could not be more different from the spaces where I had my own educational experiences.

At UIC pedagogy and urban life are constantly in flux, offering challenges to students, staff, and faculty alike. The history of UIC’s location and its transformations and expansions are the points of departure for this book. But what I thought was a unique condition is constantly reflected back to me as colleagues across the country relate the growing pains and ever-changing missions of their own schools and campuses.

The City as Campus turns many suppositions about the American campus on their heads. The first of these is the architect Robert A.M. Stern’s statement that a campus is ideally “a place apart,” as exemplified in Thomas Jefferson’s design for the University of Virginia campus, small New England colleges, and large land grant universities. The second idea, closely related to the first, is that a campus is a form of ideal city, unaffected by and disinterested in its context.

In The City as Campus I maintain that the urban campus is a unique spatial type.  The urban campus integrates the need to produce new environments for the creation of scholarship, research, and expertise on emerging urban space and social, cultural, and economic practices with the need to produce new forms for the encounter of pedagogy, research, and the city.

Through this case study I argue for a return to the model of campus-community interdependency present in the earliest stages of American collegiate growth, when institutional development was prompted by local community need. But I do not advocate the cloistered form that many of these campuses eventually took. Instead I suggest this is the moment to reconceive the campus not as a discrete community set apart from others but as an urbanity capable of engaging both new forms of cities and city living brought about in physical and virtual space.