The [sub]Urban Campus: A Typological Oxymoron

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Virginia Tech

A cluster of buildings does not a campus make.

Places of learning have long sought-out cohesive spaces that foster a sense of community and encourage an immersive life of academia. The suburban campus model, with a centric configuration, has been a successful model that has withstood the test of time. Urban campuses knitted into the urban fabric have also had success in fostering the same sense of community, but more so as part of the larger city, and using the urban context as a lab for teaching. But what makes the campuses we love successful? And how can we apply those principles to set up younger campuses for future success?

This thesis tackles these questions, and attempts to understand what differentiates a mere collection of buildings from a true campus. Applied to the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center, these borrowed ideas can start to inform the design of a new campus that bridges the gap between traditional suburban campuses and organic urban campuses. Rather than providing a series of definitive answers, the thesis establishes a series of principles on how to create a cohesive design that doesn't compromise the true nature of an urban campus. The proposed design is but one of many possible solutions.

As humans, we seem to have a desire to classify the world into categories. Oftentimes, however, the most beautiful things come from the tension of the unclassified. They come from the gray areas between typologies. The process of this thesis became inherently contradictory at times. It was developed in a way in which the particular conditions of the existing buildings on the site, and their character in the urban setting, were allowed to contaminate the clarity of the suburban campus typology, and as such, become in many ways an oxymoron.

Campus, Academic, Urban, Threshold, Old Town, WAAC