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  • Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory by Carla Yanni
  • Patrick Schmidt
Carla Yanni. Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019. 304 pp. Hardcover: $140. ISBN 978-1-5179-0455-5. Paperback: $34.95. ISBN 978-1-5179-0456-2

Though many readers of this review view the residence hall through the lens of professional practice, it takes a book like Carla Yanni's wonderful Living on Campus to wipe that lens clean of so much additional, accumulated haze: contemporary myths and propaganda, our own memories of formative experiences in residence halls and, perhaps most provocatively for the field, the ideologies and interests driving the incorporation of auxiliary services such as housing as an essential part of the "college experience". By bringing historical depth and an interdisciplinary sensitivity to the evolution of dormitories on campus, Yanni's elegant study will challenge scholars and practitioners to question their working assumptions.

The title's declared focus on architecture shouldn't discourage readers about the author's ambitions. Yanni quickly establishes that hers is "a social history of a building type" (p. 2), and given her interest not only in how institutions have responded to a changing student body but how the idea of housing as a form of education has taken shape (figuratively and literally), her audience should be those working in university departments of residential life, student affairs, and facilities. Where such a volume could burden readers who may not be able to identify a "mansard roof", her crystal-clear writing makes the architecture complement, enlighten and illustrate a topic important to the field of higher education. Where some might mistake architectural history for the study of mere styles, for Yanni the agenda is "issues of inclusion, exclusion, class, and gender" (p. 7). And where some might write architectural history through the projects of visionary architects, Yanni understands the built environment as the manifestation of the ideas and interests of many parties in collaboration.

To be sure, the heart of Living on Campus pays loving attention to dormitory architecture--the setting, project, plans, spaces, and details of residences. But the architectural historian differs from the enthusiast by not focusing on the dormitories that are merely striking, famous, or designed by celebrity architects. Rather, Yanni seeks to survey the influential, the typical, and at least something of the range. Landmark achievements (e.g., Princeton's Nassau Hall) anchor an account of evolving ideas and trends. Describing the "typical" is a dif ficult task given the diversity of institutions across variables such as region, public/private, small/large, university/college, and single-sex/co-ed. Even if she cannot always cover the waterfront, Yanni gives readers an efficient tool, framing the history as a competition between two enduring options: the double-loaded corridor (long hallways with rooms on both sides) and the staircase or entryway plan (each staircase having a doorway to outside). The shape of the building is a secondary choice; both corridors and staircases can be arranged along multiple footprints, from a rectangular block to a U-shape to a closed "donut" quad.

Though in the 20th century high-rise construction created new possibilities along the third dimension, and Yanni considers some outstanding examples of creative, hybrid plans, a relatively straight line connects the design question of "corridor" versus "entryway" to a surprising range of issues. The double-loaded corridor provides superior surveillance and management; it is also more cost-efficient. The entryway dormitory, reminiscent of the graceful quads of Oxford and Cambridge, has appealed to generations of administrators who wanted to link their work to numerous values, from tradition to community. There is no leap at all, then, to seeing embedded in historical floorplans the types of co-curricular learning objectives that student affairs professionals now assume. In this way, architectural history is a history of ideas rendered into physical form. Buildings reveal how higher education has grappled with the "whole person", set against the backdrop of changing demographics and social norms.

The periodization of this history into five chapters offers a tight canvas for the narrative and social variables at play. Chapter 1 and 2...


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pp. E-43-E-45
Launched on MUSE
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