Saturday, 12 October 2013

University as City

In his book The University in Ruins Bill Reading’s provides an eloquent analogy of the Italian Renaissance city by way of a suggesting how we might go about negotiating the posthistoric university we occupy today:
Like the inhabitants of some Italian city, we can seek neither to rebuild the Renaissance city-state nor to destroy its remnants and install rationally planned tower-blocks; we can seek only to put its angularities and winding passages to new uses, learning from and enjoying the cognitive dissonances that enclosed piazzas and non-signifying campanile induce. (Readings 1999: 129)
He later goes on to explain that we actually never leave the city, it is where we continually reside, even if some of its elements are from the past: “Even if the University is legible to us only as the remains of the idea of culture, that does not mean that we have left its precincts, that we view it from the outside.” (1999: 172) It is apparent from Readings’s spatial reference to the university as city, that this is potentially useful as a modus for a critique of today’s university (indeed, this is what my thesis is on).

Clark Kerr also uses the concept of the city to describe the model of the contemporary university, what he calls the “multiversity”:
The ‘Idea of the University’ was a village with its priests. The ‘Idea of a Modern University’ was a town - a one-industry town - with its intellectual oligarchy. ‘The Idea of a Multiversity’ is a city of infinite variety. Some get lost in the city; some rise to the top within it; most fashion their lives within one of its many subcultures. There is less sense of community than in the village but also less sense of confinement. There is less sense of purpose than within the town but there are more ways to excel. There are also more refugees of anonymity - both for the creative process and the drifter. (2001: 31)
Kerr’s city analogy offers the positive and negative qualities of the contemporary university, also providing the model of the drifter as an individual who can move about university space and yet also blend into the landscape (the French for drift is dérive which was a method of exploring the city employed by the group of activists the Situationist International in their urban walking projects).

Related blogs:
Organ Pipe-clad Concrete and Lost Students
Negotiating Brutalist Space at the University of Leeds

Kerr, Clark. 2001. The Uses of the University (Harvard: Harvard University Press).
Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).

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