Ever since 1650, universities have housed different disciplines and areas of knowledge in separate buildings, with Harvard being the very first. Thomas Jefferson on his design for the University of Virginia around 1820, stipulated it was “erroneous” to build a singular university building and that it was “infinitely better to erect a small and separate lodge for each separate professorship. Today, a number of pivotal changes in the relationship between different areas of knowledge and the way we learn force us to redefine that model. In the 21st century, subjects investigated by any one discipline- such as cancer, energy, big data, global food security, built environment, etc., are increasingly intertwined with other disciplines. Tools, expertise and areas of knowledge needed to address these subjects require cross- disciplinary thinking as well as broader modes of thinking. Moreover, the 21st century reality is hallmarked by change, which means that the university needs to infuse learners with the ability to navigate uncertainty. This means providing them with not just “job-specific” skills, but also breadth of experience as a means of expanding their general knowledge. Meanwhile, the rise of e-learning poses challenges for the need of a physical university. Consequently, how does the physical university support cross disciplinary knowledge production, and a culture of generalists, and provide learning experiences above and beyond that gained through e-learning. A number of universities have already developed initiatives to link previously disconnected disciplines. The University College of London now has degrees that combine arts and sciences, and Cambridge University’s Strategic Research Initiatives and Networks aim to addresses large-scale multi-disciplinary research challenges. At The Harvard Innovation Lab (i-Lab), as well as MIT’s Martin Trust Center, to facilitate encounters amongst people of various interests, the University invites students from different studies, professors, recent graduates, researchers, experts from industry, and the public into one building. These initiatives are a start of a new way of thinking about multidisciplinary university buildings in the 21st century. However, they occur in re-purposed buildings and therefore the efficacy of their architecture in shaping the learning experience is compromised.
The Function of Arch. in the 21st Century University
Harvard GSD | Course to be co taught with Farshid Moussavi Fall 2016