Sorkin on Colleges for the University of Chicago
5 February 2002 (collegiateway.org) — The well-known architect and architectural critic Michael Sorkin was hired in 1998 to work on long-range planning for the University of Chicago campus. Soon after he was hired the university dropped his studio from the project and decided to follow the recommendations of another firm instead. But as a Chicago alumnus (Class of ’69), Sorkin decided to continue the work anyway, and his proposals have just been published by Princeton Architectural Press under the title Other Plans: University of Chicago Studies, 1998–2000. Among his recommendations for the University of Chicago is the creation of a series of residential colleges, put together largely from existing buildings. He writes:
Although holding a reasonably large number of beds, the university’s residential system lacks presence, certainly nothing to compare with Cambridge Colleges or Harvard Houses, the Latin Quarter, or Greenwich Village. But an interesting skeleton is there. The core of the dorm system is presently the 100-person “house,” a logical increment for future development.… The current system of houses and commons could also be expanded to form the substrate of a series of larger campus communities. The word “village” (used by Ed Barnes in his north campus proposal of the Sixties) is a good one to describe a style of aggregation that embraces the legibility of its individual parts while still offering a cohesive feeling of something larger. Each of these new villages might include houses of various sizes; a commons for dining, student activities, and athletics; staff residences; academic space; and commercial space. Each village would develop its own distinctive physical and social character and with it a set of relationships and loyalties that are the bedrock of any community.… We propose seven locations for these collegiate villages.
And those locations are shown in an illustration as Dewey College, Grey College, Hutchins College, Chandrasekhar College, Redfield College, and Arendt College, plus a looser group of smaller units. This residential college proposal is only one part of the comprehensive campus plan set out in the volume, and it is not developed in great detail (Other Plans is a small volume of fewer than 100 pages). Nevertheless it is encouraging to see such a proposal in print. Sorkin is widely read in the architectural community, and he is both adored and reviled in different quarters—almost every review of his work seems to include the phrase agent provocateur somewhere. So if it succeeds in no other way, this proposal will at least draw further attention to the collegiate idea. If you are looking for details of implementation for your own campus you won’t find them here (unless you are at the University of Chicago), but if you enjoy thought-provoking architectural writing about university campuses you will find much of interest in these Other Plans.