A Campus Biography
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The university, as an institution and as a space, is complex. A middle scale outside the comfort zone of architects, the campus bridges between the architectural and the urban. In response to professional pressures on architects, the study of campus planning emerged in the mid-twentieth century as a technocratic concern. The campus became a spatial type worthy of analytical attention and epistemic production. The functionalist approach to campus studies eventually gave way to more academic and less instrumental interests in the subject. To take stock of the development of the conceptualization of the campus as an object of analysis, I utilize the biographical method as a lens through which to read the differentiation within the field. This essay vicariously traces the contours of the campus’ discursive landscape by focusing on the oeuvre of the discourse’s prime inciter to discourse, Richard Dober. Through a close reading of his monographs, a textured picture of campus studies emerges; the discourse first coalesces around modernist, functionalist, and subsequently international concerns about the efficacy and adequacy of the spatial provisions accorded to rapidly expanding higher education. This is followed by a discursive turn towards more humanistic concerns like history and art, ushered by the publication of Paul Turner’s seminal history of the campus in the United States. Dober was not immune to this discursive shift, but took it in stride, producing many books attempting to reconcile his rationalist, modernist predilections with the ascendance of lyricism and beauty as core analytical concerns. His oeuvre developed and expanded, incorporating campus history and aesthetics as primary interpretive threads. The ardent functionalist of yesteryear had to adapt and assume a humanistic outlook in his later years. In sum, campus discourse’s story is a bipolar one, jumpstarted by modernist concerns spearheaded by Dober only to later be inflected by the Turner plot point towards scholarship in the vein of that produced by historian-aesthetes. Because Dober lived, worked, and wrote prolifically through all this, his collective works serve as an index of the evolution and differentiation of the campus discourse, and his books as lampposts along the shifting discursive landscape of campus planning and design. This deep dive into Dober’s oeuvre and its interfaces with discursive developments illuminates how his oeuvre is reflected in and inflected by the evolution of the campus discourse. Uniquely intertwined with the discourse, Dober’s biography is an opportune proxy through which to sketch a biography of the discursive campus.