Learning from Denise (II). Campus and City. Education Goes Beyond the Classroom.
“The educational experience extends to all aspects of students’ lives and…. the academic mission and program of the University have an important complement in the broad educational framework that students find outside the classroom.” Therefore, “the range of activities on- and off-campus, the resources and the spaces, are all understood as a rich and complex educational whole”.
Denise Scott Brown
Like all educational spaces, the university cannot be thought of as a space isolated either from its surroundings or from ongoing social and urban processes. In fact, in the current situation it is ever more necessary for it to be able to assume a new role and recover important functions, addressing local and global challenges and more specific needs. Rather than self-referential spaces, educational institutions should form part of a network of places which reinforce relationships and which, as a mixture of compatible uses and activities, are capable of revitalizing the city: places of identity and civic value with an active role to play as a social and environmental urban infrastructure.
As director of the Urban Planning Department at Venturi & Scott Brown Architects, Denise Scott Brown was responsible for over sixty studies, campus projects, master plans, and university and college buildings, mostly in the USA. Her designs are innovative solutions to physical, relational, environmental, and even technological challenges. Above all, they address existing situations, which are analysed morphologically, topologically, and from a social perspective orientated towards users and process management over time.
Scott Brown’s approach is exemplified in three different strategies: the “Campus Master Plan, University of Pennsylvania” in Philadelphia (1989-1994); the “Campus Plan, University of Michigan” in Ann Arbor (1997-2002) and the “Planning for Campus Life, Brown University” in Providence (2004). In the first, the campus is conceived as a “linear urban park” connecting the university and the city centre; the second proposes a new “urban complex-building with an inner thoroughfare”, a place that would act as a centrifuge and catalyst for activities; and the third establishes a “distributed, interconnected network of proximate spaces and new uses for the revitalisation of urban life”. All of them are committed to biodiversity, centrality, proximity, and urban life—“things and relationships between things”, as Nuno Portas would say.
Circulation, use, and activity patterns are mapped, with diagrams strategically identifying problems, opportunities, potentials, and possible solutions capable of bolstering the personality of existing buildings and urban spaces. Meeting places and circulation, connection and access networks are shown using Nolli maps and urban sections. Users’ connectivity and “desire” lines and landscape interconnection axes (topography and buildings) are marked out, with vegetation and green space being classified as romantic, iconic, symbolic, or shared. The campus is seen as a balanced whole, an idea also recalled by Carlos Martí Arís:
“As usually occurs, etymological analysis is decisive in that it reminds us that “campus” is rooted precisely in the Latin word which referred to the country as opposed to the city. The main objectives of the modern notion of “campus” would therefore be to vindicate the re-establishment of Nature as an active presence within the urban fabric and to research a new way of balancing the two factors considered the basic ingredients of habitable space”.
Denise Scott Brown’s contemporaneity resides in her understanding of the campus as a place of renewal, capable of facilitating new encounters and learning experiences by generating dynamic relationships between interiors and exteriors, between urban life and academic life, between the city and Nature: an idea of the city-campus as a “whole”: an open, active, green, extended, healthy, habitable classroom.
Text translated by Andrew V.Taylor