Sharon Haar


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

Cover Interview of October 04, 2011

A close-up

Chicago occupies a particular place in the development of American urbanism. Urban reform movements, the city beautiful movement, modern architecture, and urban renewal and public housing were developed and tested in Chicago, often before being transferred nationwide, with both positive and negative results.

The University of Illinois at Chicago campus was built at the same time as the interstate expressways that radiate from the city center.  And it was originally called the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (UICC), for the interchange just to its northeast.  When the campus first opened in 1965 it was hailed as “the model for the modern urban university.” The University of Illinois at Chicago Circle as designed (Cecilia Benites and Sharon Haar).

In contrast to the original University of Illinois campus in Urbana-Champaign, with a large green field at its center, the “Circle” campus was designed to teach a lesson about the form of the modern American city, a functionally zoned environment connected by express walkways that hovered above the ground, bringing commuter students to a vast forum and lecture halls at its center.

If the UICC campus was to be a demonstration project for the twentieth century city—a city within a city or a campus as a city—the community it replaced was an example of the neighborhood-based city of the nineteenth century.

The Near West Side, where the campus was built, was also the home of the Hull-House Social Settlement, an institution central to the creation of the progressive city. As a consequence, the choice of location and the battles that ensued from this choice speak as much to the history of urban ideas as the pedagogy for the masses that the architecture housed.

As the campus and its educational programs, student population, and research agendas expanded to meet the demands of the late twentieth and now early twenty-first century, both its architectural and urban forms transformed with them, continuing to tell a story of Chicago urbanism.

The UIC campus, a purpose-built, urban-grant institution, stands in contrast to the emergence of “Loop U,” an assemblage of colleges, universities, schools of art and design, and career academies woven in and around the buildings of the southern end of the city’s historic business district. Here there is no lawn and no center. If UIC was initially designed to be the campus for the inner city and suburban citizen, “Loop U” accommodates the needs of the global city, intermixing art, design, media and IT students with business, law, and culinary institute students. As these institutions revitalize abandoned department stores and outdated office space they also broadcast a new image of the city.