Carla Yanni


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

Cover Interview of September 11, 2019


Why continue to build residence halls in the age of distance learning? Do colleges need these buildings? Perhaps not. For centuries, students at community colleges and the universities of Europe managed to attain education without living on campus. On the other hand, the long history of dormitories suggests that fellowship and esprit de corps are enhanced by communal living. As more classes are taught online, demand for residence halls might decrease and living at home will be an inexpensive option. But the attraction of living on campus will endure. Some empty-nesters are relieved to have teenaged children out of the house. Students are motivated to move out of their family homes, because that transition traditionally draws a sharp line between high school and college, between adolescence and adulthood. Residence halls solidify, even magnify, social differences. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening in American society at large, and this fact makes the in-person networking opportunities afforded to those who live on campus more valuable than ever. Living in a residence hall gives students a boost up the social ladder and has done so since the earliest days of the colonial colleges. Living on campus will remain essential for face-to-face networking, for both friendship and future careers, and that social connection will continue to serve as a major incentive for students to attend college in the first place. The architecture of dormitories, therefore, is an ever-changing manifestation of the social meaning of higher education.