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An Academic Aesthetics?

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines "campus" as both a "physical space in a hospital, school or university" and an "academic entity" (1). Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "the grounds of a college or university," but also as "university of college life" (2). Both definitions imply links between architecture and social dimensions of university life.

A university campus has its predecessor in medieval monasteries that, like for instance the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay in France founded in 1118 by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, were self-contained complexes that included churches, cloisters, dormitories, and various support buildings (3). Later, universities created similar autonomous environments designed to further their aims--teaching and the pursuit of new knowledge. Today, the image of the greatest universities is often associated with their spaces: the spires of Oxford or the Harvard Yard became part of the vocabulary and metaphors for academic life.

In the US, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) formulated the concept of an academical village. Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, held several major public offices; he was governor of Virginia, minister to France, secretary of state, vice president, and from 1801 to 1809 the third president of the United States. In 1819, at the age of 76, he designed the layout of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. His idea was to create a space that facilitated students and faculty learning from each other and "pushing the boundaries of knowledge in service for the common good" (4). The design included the central building, the Rotunda shown in Fig. 1 (modeled on the Pantheon in Rome), the pavilions on the sides of a large rectangular lawn with classrooms and living quarters for the faculty, and behind them the East and West Ranges with student hotels. There were colonnades reminding one of Greek stoas and individual gardens behind the pavilions surrounding the lawn. In 1987 Jefferson's home, the neoclassical villa named Monticello, and the Academical Village, became a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site (5).

University campuses interact with their host cities in different ways. One model is a relatively small town dominated by the university, as is the case in Oxford and Cambridge. Large cities may contain academic campuses in their centers. In New York City, the campus of the Rockefeller University on the East River forms an enclave with its research buildings, faculty and postgraduate student housing, and green spaces. In Scotland, the Glasgow University campus is a largely self-contained neobaroque complex in the West End of the city. Some universities are completely embedded in a city, with no clear campus boundaries, such as the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. There is also an academic macroscale: in Boston, the presence of Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston University within not too great a distance across the Charles River creates a powerful critical mass.

There is now pressure to enhance the efficiency of campus spaces. On the one hand this means creating learning spaces more flexible than conventional lecture facilities. On the other, the increasing number of translational projects means that universities are increasingly sharing facilities with industry (6). An innovative concept is a multiuniversity, or partnership campus, that aims to link research, education, and innovation by the involvement of multiple universities and other institutions on a single site (6, 7). Such a site may be a managed space, such as the EdCampus Twin Cities in Chaska, Minnesota, where facilities can be made available to the universities, to educational programs, or to businesses (8).

How important is the aesthetics of campus space? Architectural styles, particularly on larger campuses, are often inconsistent, due to the layering dictated by needs emerging at different periods. However, because of this, most campuses retain embedded historical references that enhance institutional traditions. Affluent universities may enhance their campus by commissioning buildings from star architects, which may become future icons of a campus (6). Moreover, many universities possess rich art collections that remind the inhabitants of the wider cultural context. Importantly, architecture and landscape influence the social function of the campus and contribute to an ambiance that is difficult to quantify, which the physical environment and social life create. The University of Colorado campus design guidelines call this a "delight aesthetic," and emphasize the importance of, among other factors, the human scale of architecture and inclusion of elements of nature in campus design (9).

Thus, a university campus cannot be viewed in a static way, like a painting or sculpture. It is a combination of architectural and landscape elements and all important "performance" aspects that include academic rituals. All in all, consideration of academic aesthetic extends the thinking about the university campus beyond functionality and efficiency. It is an open concept based on the ability to create an environment that attracts people and stimulates learning and critical enquiry.

DOI: 10.1373/clinchem.2015.253120

Author Contributions: All authors confirmed they have contributed to the intellectual content of this paper and have met the following 3 requirements: (a) significant contributions to the conception and design, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; (b) drafting or revising the article for intellectual content; and (c) final approval of the published article.

Authors' Disclosures or Potential Conflicts of Interest: No authors declared any potential conflicts of interest.

Acknowledgments: My thanks to Jacky Gardiner for her excellent secretarial assistance.


(1.) Campus. (Accessed June 2016).

(2.) Thompson D. Campus. In: Fowler HW, Howler FG, editors. The concise Oxford dictionary of current English. 9th ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1995. p 188.

(3.) Fontenay Abbey. (Accessed June 2016).

(4.) University of Virginia. Academical Village. (Accessed June 2016).

(5.) Gardens. (Accessed June 2016).

(6.) Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. list/442 (Accessed June2016).

(7.) Parr C. Six trends in campus design. Times Higher Education (11 December 2014). article (Accessed June 2016).

(8.) Norberg A. Education analyst Umea University. The birth, growth and future of the multi-university/partnership campusconcept. (Accessed June 2016).

(9.) EdCampus Twin Cities. (Accessed June 2016).

(10.) University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Campus design guidelines. http:// (Accessed June 2016).

Marek H. Dominiczak *

College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK.

* Address correspondence to the author at: Gartnavel General Hospital, 1053 Great Western Rd., Glasgow G12 0YN, Scotland, UK. Fax +44-141-211-3452; e-mail

Received June 16, 2016; accepted June 20, 2016.

Caption: Fig. 1. The Rotunda. University of Virginia at Charlottesville, VA. Image courtesy of UVA Office of Communications. Reproduced with permission.
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Title Annotation:Science in the Arts
Author:Dominiczak, Marek H.
Publication:Clinical Chemistry
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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