On Quads

Space matters. And to the surprise of many, but not, perhaps, the marketing gurus at Starbucks, space matters a great deal in a world often navigated through screens. The ordering and arrangement of space signals values, summons emotion and establishes expectations for behavior.

Within the realm of education, for example, the classroom serves as model for the arrangement of space. Whether one thinks of a little red schoolhouse, a traditional classroom or a large lecture hall, be it kindergarten or law school, classrooms affirm learning and particular kinds of exchanges. The only people who belong in classrooms are students or teachers. Anyone else who enters a classroom is an interloper or, at best, a guest to be tolerated. Moreover, one assumes one of these identities when entering a classroom. We do it automatically, internalized and unquestioned.

But what of higher education? Classrooms are important, but the academic quad, the quadrangle is the archetypal space. A quad affirms collegiate values. Students cross quads, carrying books and throwing frisbees. The quad is where they encounter their professors, moving between office, classroom and laboratory and library.  The quad frames the campus, giving order to the assembled structures.  The quad is pretentious, imposing order and expectations on what is, by all intents and purposes, open space, free for interpretation.

At Oxbridge colleges call their rectangular open spaces framed by academic buildings “courts.” Some United States colleges follow suit, but the term does not possess the same currency on this side of the Atlantic. Think of a college campus and the mental image that springs to mind is that of a quad.

David Potash