The Epistemology of Campus Design: Rhizomatic and Parasitic or Isolated Fabrics?

Thomas Dahl

Abstract


In this article, I explore the material organization of universities, commonly called a campus as an overreaching term. The main research question is whether and how this organization − with its buildings and spaces − plays a role in supporting the purpose of a university: to contribute to learning, development and research.

Traditionally, university campuses and buildings are analysed through the concepts of space, architectural form and/or style. This analysis approach, I argue, has its limitations, as it is not able to explain the role of the material organization in what is happening at the university, most notably for the learning processes taking place there. In this article, I use the ontological position of actor-network theory, which blurs the distinction between human and non-human actors, and gives materials an acting role. I regard both buildings and campuses as performative actors that interact with other actors, most notably students and educators.

Through a brief study of the history of the university, I show the differences between pre-modern and modern material organization and planning, which was influenced by Wilhelm von Humboldt’s idea of a university’s purpose. Through a study of the plans for a new campus for the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), I question the Humboldtian epistemology and ask whether it is in line with modern learning theories.

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