Carla Yanni


On her book Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory

Cover Interview of September 11, 2019

In a nutshell

Did you live in a dormitory? Do you have fond memories of it, or were you plotting your escape from the moment you moved in? Many people live in residence halls during a transformational moment in their lives. And lots of people pay for their children to live in dormitories, too. But few stop to think about the way these everyday structures shape young lives.

Living on Campus is the first and only book that looks at the architectural history of this commonplace building type. I argue that college students dwelling together is not obvious or inevitable. Instead, it is an artifact of three centuries of American educational ideology that placed an outsized value on socialization. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, students were boys who needed moral guidance; in the nineteenth century, women began attending college in large numbers, always under protective eyes; as the concept of the adolescent emerged around 1900, youthful men were encouraged to delay adulthood; in the Fifties, they were GIs eager to re-enter society; in the Sixties, students were members of a youth culture that administrators almost feared. This mad dash through the centuries is obviously oversimplified, and yet it nonetheless demonstrates that today’s students bear little resemblance to their forebears, which makes it all the more remarkable that the residence hall still thrives.