A square. We all like squares, orderly places of public enjoyment, signs of civilised city-building, agents of urban harmony across the centuries. Architects especially like squares, their being both conspicuous symbols of a commitment to the public good and geometric figures. Architects like to do good and be seen to do good. Geometry is a tool of their trade. A square neatly wraps symbol and instrument up in one word and four lines.
The London School of Economics, unusually among institutions of higher education, has had, until now, no squares. No quads, no courts either. It occupies instead a dense tissue of narrow streets squeezed between the semi-circle of the Aldwych, the rectangle of Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the ramrod of Kingsway. All available regular shapes having seemingly been used up by its neighbours, this world-famous seat of learning has patched its campus together from a morphology of crookedness, grown from spores seemingly scattered by a wonky 16th-century cottage in its midst, on whose front large gothic letters wrongly proclaim it to have been the Old Curiosity Shop that inspired one of Charles Dickens’s novels.
Students, like starlings, occupy whatever ledges and crevices they can find between seven or so storey blocks that are themselves intensely used. It’s a sort of studious and cleaned-up Naples, a unique multistorey fusion of civic and academic space. It’s a hive, an anthill, a rookery… insert your zoological metaphor here.
Into which moderate disorder the architects Ivan Harbour, Tracy Meller and Andrew Morris of Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners have inserted two linked steel-framed blocks, one six storeys and the other 12, regular and mostly right-angled. Centre Building, as the project is called, contains lecture theatres, academic offices, meeting rooms and places to lure students to the campus away from their electronically connected bedrooms. Its stated aims are flexibility and communication, the breaking down of the silos into which academic life tends to sort itself.