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Universities and the City: from islands of knowledge to districts of innovation

Borsi, Katharina; Schulte, Chris


Chris Schulte


We are witnessing a new trend in the design of university buildings and other ‘knowledge typologies’, that is, buildings in which knowledge is produced or disseminated, such as research laboratories or libraries. Increasingly, their design inverts the image of the closed ‘ivory tower’ through a layered intersection of inside and outside spaces, seeking to draw the life of the city and the life of the institution closely together.

Using London’s ‘Knowledge Quarter’ centred in Bloomsbury, Euston and King’s Cross as a focus, this article traces a trajectory of typological evolution of university buildings which includes Adams, Holden and Pearson’s ‘ivory tower’ project for a new headquarters of the University of London (1932), of which only Senate House was built; Leslie Martin’s and Trevor Dannatt’s radical restructuring of the Georgian urban structure through the Development Plan of the University of London (1959); Denys Lasdun’s evolution and typological reworking of this plan through the Institute of Education (1970–1976); and Stanton Williams’ Central St Martins (2008–2011).

In this trajectory, we see Martin’s and Dannatt’s Development plan for the University of London as an important pivot in the shift from the ivory tower of academia to the current urban landscape of learning and innovation. This paper argues that the contribution of typology to this urban transformation exceeds the representation of institutional missions and the generic descriptors of place. Instead, it posits that the typological development contributes to a broader urban ecology of change and transformation, one in which the respective urban agency of each project reimagines how urban vitalities, synergies and intensities might be instigated and maintained.


Borsi, K., & Schulte, C. (2018). Universities and the City: from islands of knowledge to districts of innovation. Journal of Architecture, 23(7-8), 1143-1180.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 17, 2018
Online Publication Date Sep 27, 2018
Publication Date Sep 27, 2018
Deposit Date Oct 29, 2018
Publicly Available Date Mar 28, 2020
Journal Journal of Architecture
Print ISSN 1360-2365
Electronic ISSN 1466-4410
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 23
Issue 7-8
Pages 1143-1180
Keywords Visual arts and performing arts; Architecture
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Architecture on 27/09/2018, available online:


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