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Carlo Quintelli

Campus and City

The Mastercampus Project

View of the University of Virginia Campus

View of the University of Virginia Campus

The university component is strategically indispensable in the development of a knowledge economy, one where research is the basis of every production lab characterized by innovation, where the university campus type becomes a poleogenetic tool, of necessity complementary to the city context and pre-existing local circumstances

The “campus” theme is unquestionably among those that have characterized the recent history of architectural design with regard to those aspects closest to the ontological meaning of the city. First and foremost that of community, if it is true that the main causal factor of the urban phenomenon is the required community, that of economic and socio-political implications, including cultural adaptation. An attention-seeking by the city, as Max Weber has taught us, that can extend its role to other more vast community patterns, linked to larger areas or otherwise as far as identification with a nation in a geopolitical sense goes or, nowadays more often in a geo-relational way with respect to a network of homologous centres. If we start off from these presuppositions between campus and city, the idea, but also the formal type of campus, can be historically detected in the founding processes not only of a city but even of an entire nation.  In the American context, for example, as Paul Venable Turner has demonstrated rather well [1], the campus theme is original and formally more defined with respect to that of the city which, in the initial stages of the birth of a nation, is still limited to the agglomerate of a village or at most to the scheme of the colonial layout. Moreover, the very idea of the city as an expression of a representative centrality sees the formal elaboration of the university campus superimposed on the city, as in the case of the American capital cities, and Washington in particular [2]. Then again, the American episode of the symbiotic relationship between campus and city is also symptomatic of the potential of a university community that uses, but at the same time reproduces, many aspects of urban phenomenology. Certainly, in the European case, in more organic terms to the rebirth of the urban phenomenon, starting from the medieval phase, hence less distinguishable per se since undertaken within a socio-political and economic structuring that can autonomously identify the required functional and representative components: from the building of cathedrals to municipal palaces and the market squares of the bourgeois community up to the urban fortifications of the aristocratic classes. In every case, the awareness that should accompany those who operate today on the university campus theme is of a poleogenetic instrument continually employed throughout the historical course of the city and perhaps by now charged with further responsibility in several ways.Suffice to think how the university component is strategically indispensable in the development of a knowledge economy, one where research is the basis of every production lab characterized by innovation. Whence the development of the grand university settlements in Anglo-Saxon circles, currently replicated by the new protagonists of socio-economic growth on a global scale, as settlement centres of technologically advanced societies and where transfer of technology is carried out reciprocally. In what is, in some ways, only apparently the opposite direction, campuses frequently become places of experimentation on behaviour but also technologies that can guarantee an eco-sustainability that is as highly demonstrative in practice no less than in its ideological elaboration. Nonetheless, between the techno-campus and the eco-campus the university complex intercedes as an instrument of a developmental projection, of a wish to be a future city.Bowing to this complex vocation, in demonstration of the permanent attention-seeking behaviour of the campus in becoming a city, the question that ensues is how this role is characterized in the Italian settlement scenario. Beyond a constant integration with the historical urban fabric and the great monumental edifices that immortalize it, to the point of identifying as university campuses sizeable portions of the historical nuclei of Italian cities, the university campus settlement has also seen independent creations that remain complementary to an existent city or regional situation. Whether in cases that mark the relationship with the surroundings such as Chieti or Arcavacata in Calabria, or when the dialectic of the relationship is with the city, in the urban addition of Piacentini's Sapienza Campus in Rome or, on quite a different scale, in De Carlo's reproduction of a Central Italic village for his university buildings in Urbino. The city and its surroundings, in the resulting structural definition and landscaping, tend to summarize the campus' settlement data, metabolizing its contribution within its own transformation physiology. It follows that in the Italian context it is difficult to acknowledge a specialized, or even an alternative role for the university campus pole in an urban sense. If anything, it is in the concepts of complementarity, integration, and superimposition on the city that we can rediscover the dialectic reasons for a contextualized characterization of the “Italian-style campus”. The University of Parma's Mastercampus project starts off from these presuppositions and draws two main guidelines from them in support of its advancement [3]. The first is that of a strategic consideration of the university settlement applied to the entire urban fabric, from historical nucleus to the inner suburbs and the suburbs proper. The medium-sized city, the features of urban sprawl projected out into the surroundings constitute the premises for a multiplication of university settlement hubs, where the very idea of “campus” is multiplied and efficiently characterized, from time to time, in the events of the historical fabric, in the hospital complex rather than the area in between a heavily anthropized region, merely due to consolidated rural activity, and the outskirts girded by the ring road. In this condition, the strategic nature of the campus is purely urban in the way it can structure pieces of city and the surroundings by strengthening them, introducing attraction factors, centrality logic, urban hierarchy. The second establishes a critical relationship with the city on the demonstrative plane as regards certain critical points, presupposing a positive knock-on effect for the context. This is the case for the redevelopment of the historical fabric where the interventions of the Campuses in the Oltretorrente neighbourhood and the Centre can help combat the phenomenon of deconcentration of the city's central nucleus, which we find in the decentralization of tertiary and administrative functions rather than in the deterioration of the mercantile network. Or, as in the Science and Technology Campus, with its academic community consisting of lecturers, researchers and students who make use of their own capacities for self reflection to express an integrated design approach focused on establishing a novel construction for an urban neighbourhood sooner than a campus, with all the multiple aspects that the various scientific sectors can express: from environmental sustainability to alternative mobility, from habitation patterns to the way public space is used. In the crossfading between campus and city, the tools of architecture, once again in the transcalar and diachronic sense of Italian tradition, can make a fundamental contribution to urban transformation, employing the university component as a decisive resource for the city's layout and landscape. 

[1] Paul Venable Turner, Campus: An American Planning Tradition, MIT Press Cambridge, 1984
[2] Carlo Quintelli, L’architettura del centro, argomenti sull’identità capitale della città, Turin 1996
[3] To see the range of activities in the Mastercampus strategy, visit

Carlo Quintelli, full Professor of Architectural and Urban Composition, he teaching at the Faculty of Architecture of Parma.
Since 2012, he has been vice director of the DICATeA, Department of Civil Engineering, Environment, Territory and
Architecture of the University of Parma.

View of  Campidoglio in Washington

View of Campidoglio in Washington