On Designing Open Spaces at University Campuses

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While it is clear that there is a rich diversity of studies on outdoor space at the urban scale, only few works have investigated this type of space at the architectural scale, in particular on university campuses. In the latter case, however, these spaces are as important as teaching spaces. They come back in most students’ mental maps and best stories. Through a comparative analysis of three university campuses, designed in the 1970s in Algeria, by an icon of modern architecture, Oscar Niemeyer, this article investigates the importance of outdoor space in structuring architectural projects and their composition and environmental quality. As the president’s preferred architect, Niemeyer was given “carte blanche” to design the university campuses of modern Algeria. We draw on a range of tools to investigate the character of these spaces. In addition to the de/re-composition of architectural plans, which helped to identify outdoor space typologies, surveys were used to assess users’ appropriation and appreciation of these spaces. In situ, direct observation helped to confirm some of the preliminary results. These comparative analyses highlighted the positive impact of the geometric and hierarchical composition of spaces. The combination of plant and mineral, covered and open spaces, and the attention to detail in the facilities provided in these outdoor spaces, which extends to the design of appropriate furniture for each space, shows that some of the criticism of modern architecture is a little unfair.