Visualizing the Social Underpinnings of a Building Type & Widespread Adoption of Student Unions

  • Clare Robinson University of Arizona
Keywords: college union, history, social network


Using both found and created visual evidence, this paper will chart the origin and wide spreadadoption of Student Union buildings on college campuses in the United States from the 1920s through World War II. Original photographs, plans, and drawings of buildings – published or buried in archives – mount a story about the emerging building type that Student Union proponents and architects sought to establish on university campuses. Existing visual evidence provides important clues about the character and intent of the social spaces for college students, but this evidence does not explain the rapid adoption or the similarities among contemporaneous buildings, which were built by different architects under various campus administrations. New maps, however, are able to depict how ideas about the building type coalesced geographically through social connections, and why construction spread across the country as membership to the Association of College Unions grew. Although the history of Student Union buildings entails a range of topics that span how architecture supported social education and citizenship, conjured “home,” and served to establish a broad middle-class culture after World War II, this paper focuses on how social processes and individuals, on behalf of an institution, established the building type through a social network. Specific historic factors visualized include directed travel for Student Union research, conventions, and membership to the Association of College Unions, as well as travel by Student Union professionals. The significance of this research is that it harnesses maps and visual media to explore when and how social connections –much like social media today – circulated ideological approaches to social education, and shaped the form and meaning of Student Union buildings themselves. Thus, this paper contributes to discourse on building typologies as it examines the potential of maps and visual evidence in architectural history.
How to Cite
Robinson, C. (2013). Visualizing the Social Underpinnings of a Building Type & Widespread Adoption of Student Unions. ARCC Conference Repository.
Peer-reviewed Papers