Saturday, 8 December 2012

Postwar University Campus Expansion: Part 3 - The New Monumentality

Please click here for part 1 and part 2

In the summer of 2009 the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds organised an event called The New Monumentality. It comprised of a half day seminar supporting the current exhibition which showed artists responses to campus spaces exploring the architectural modernity of the 1950s and 60s of which they inherited. Two out of the three artists included work that had been influenced by the University of Leeds campus. The seminar was called Building the Future and examined modernist campus architecture in the context of cultural theory and architectural aesthetics. A campus walk followed the seminar at the end of the day.

During the seminar human the field of capital theory was discussed in regards to education. It has been used as an "economic device" since the 1960s as a way of measuring performance. (Fitzsimmons 1999: 1) It became popular at this time due to education being included as a key part of the global economy, and sees "human activity" as " the exchange of commodities and the notion of capital employed is purely a quantitative one." ( Fitzsimmons 1999: 3) This means that individuals sell their education (themselves) on the market, and their degree becomes part of the exchange value for their employment. What this capitalistic approach ignores, amongst other factors, is the value of knowledge as it is for the individual, because it only concentrates on the performative aspect of education, the input/output regimen. What we see as the corporatised university of today, has its origins in the 1960s where something that could be considered a Fordist or Taylorist approach began to be applied to education, as can be seen in the University of Leeds development plan in terms of moving bodies around the campus, and the economic and efficient use of space (as discussed on previous blogs).

It is the supporting structures in the form of the educational apparatus, the discourse of the university and the abstract and concrete space of higher education that helps form the subjectivity and identities of university students (today, even more than in the 1960s, at a time where course fees are now around £9,000 per year, students see their own degree in terms of an economic investment). In their article entitled 'Academic Architecture and the Constitution of the New Model Worker' Philp Hancock and AndrĂ© Spicer consider how campus spaces orient the subjectivity of students "towards the production of economically viable modes of identity conducive to the demands of a post-industrial economy." (2011: 91) While their article is a recent one, looking at a contemporary situation at Glasgow Caledonian University - their new library called the Saltire Centre - it nevertheless provides a spatial and ideological analysis which would be relevant in applying to any period of campus architecture.

(images courtesy of the University of Leeds)

Related Links:
The New Monumentality
The University of Leeds: A Very Short History

Fitzsimmons, Patrick. Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Education, 'Human Capital Theory and Education', (1999), [accessed 25 September 2012]
Hanccock, Philip and André Spicer. 'Academic Architecture and the Constitution of the New Model Worker', Culture and Organization, 17, 2 (2011), 91-105.

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