Marson Korbi – Forever Young: A Critical History of Student Accommodation

Since the rise of the university in the Middle Ages, western civilization started to invest a lot on education and the production of knowledge, giving birth to the figure of the student. Plans on education were brought by reformers, moralists and educators of different times to formulate new pedagogical agendas, continuously re-collocating the role of children and students in society. The adoption of these reforms and the rise of the student were strongly related to the architectural history of student accommodations, from early medieval colleges to modern student housing. Whereas in the Middle Ages college students began much younger than today, and class cohorts were often mixed with people of various ages, starting from the sixteenth century, colleges and dormitories introduced strict subdivisions of age, gender and class.

In today’s jargon, contemporary workers are often defined as ‘eternal students.’ If, on the one side, this label is used by managers and policymakers to invest in education, on the other side, it is promoting a new consciousness among a rising generation of workers who consider themselves students even after finishing university. Modern students, stuck in that purgatory between childhood and adulthood, pushed from their families and persuaded by universities with the promise of becoming entrepreneurs, are faced with the concrete problems of housing—problems which are the result of the twentieth-century neoliberal welfare crisis.

This research will try to construct a critical architectural history of student accommodations. Specifically, the research will consider the ambivalent role of academic institutions and dormitories in disciplining and dividing young adults, as well as its role in providing alternative forms of welfare to that of the family. The work will also offer a typological interpretation of student housing by collecting a series of archetypical examples —ranging from medieval colleges and the Islamic Madrasa, to the pre-modern university campus and finally the modern dormitory—showing how these typologies reflected different historical changes in education, family and the state.

Yet, despite being a symptom of neoliberalism, the modern state’s cessation in student housing investments could also pose an important opportunity for reinventing alternative forms of dwelling centered around novel welfare institutions.