Rafael’s fresco “The School of Athens” is an ambition; a utopian vision of a free, open, informal, and common space for learning. It is an in-between space. Neither inside nor outside, not quite a room, but also not simply a space for circulation. It is not a classroom, and yet we see scholars and students debating, teaching, and studying.
Although we typically think of learning taking place in the classroom, educators and architects have recognized for thousands of years that learning also takes place in the space between; in the hallways, on the stairs, at the café, in the quad – the spaces we call the academic commons. Socrates taught in the Agora. Plato founded his Academy in the olive grove outside of Athens and often taught while walking. Medieval colleges were organized around a communal courtyard and 20th century universities are filled with generous circulation corridors that double as informal learning spaces.
The School of Athens exhibition showcases physical models of seventy different academic common spaces from across history and around the world, both realized and unrealized. All models are printed at the same scale - 1:200 - and show only the portion of the university that we have identified as the academic commons, excluding all of the other closed spaces like classrooms and offices. By no means canonical or complete, this work is an ongoing and evolving research project – an ever expanding spatial atlas of the architecture of the academic commons.
Curated by NEIHEISER ARGYROS, The School of Athens at the Benaki Museum continues and expands the research exhibited at the Greek National Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale and forms a collaboration between students of the National Technical University in Athens (NTUA) and the Architectural Association (AA) in London.