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A Weekly Dose of Architecture: The City as Campus

By archidose
A Weekly Dose of Architecture

Haar_City coverGrowing up in the suburbs north of Chicago, trips into the city were rare and therefore special. These included visiting museums and taking in the occasional play or other event with the family, as well as organized school field trips. A number of the latter were part of an Urban Studies class in high school, one of which included my first visit to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). We walked around the campus, an assemblage of brutalist buildings, but our goal that day seemed to be Hull House, located on the eastern edge of campus. Nothing could have been more different from UIC than Hull House; the former appeared modern and big while the latter was historic and tiny next to the campus buildings. Situated next to the campus's "front door," Hull House spoke to a history that UIC displaced, but reading Sharon Haar's account of "urbanism and higher education in Chicago" that relationship is hardly the whole story.

Haar, an associate professor of architecture at UIC who has written a good deal on education, looks at various colleges across Chicago (University of Chicago, IIT, Roosevelt, Columbia College, etc.) in this book, but she focuses on UIC and the urban renewal that enabled its existence west of the Loop 50 years ago. She begins the book by going back to the 19th century and the origins of Hull House. It is used as an exemplar of a social institution geared towards improving the city be being embedded within it. Women at Hull House learned by doing and by being part of the community, not in a learning environment segregated from its environs. While Hull House was never articulated as a school -- it was much more multi-faceted and flexible, morphing over time depending on changes happening around it -- it serves as a model for universities and other higher-ed schools that do not separate themselves from the cities they serve and call home. In this sense it is the anti-UIC, which is a campus built from a tabula rasa achieved through "slum" demolition. The irony of Hull House's preservation as a museum at UIC's front stoop is quite evident, even, to a lesser degree, to me all those years ago.

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