The Metaphors That Made the Student Union

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This article uses archival research to illustrate how the Association of College Unions and the professional consultants it supported employed the metaphors of “home, ” the “art of living, ” and “laboratory for living” to organize architectural meaning, social spaces, and student activities in the design of student unions on campuses across North America in the period following World War II. These metaphors facilitated the spread of expert knowledge as well as the making of a new building type. This move toward standardization reflected the long-standing egalitarian character of student unions and the growing presence of the middle class in American universities during the mid-twentieth century. The standardized student union physically embodied the American middle-class “standard of living” and promoted ideal middle-class values through its presence on college campuses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-203
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Society of Architectural Historians
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2023


  • American colleges and universities
  • Association of College Unions
  • building types
  • college union
  • metaphor
  • standard
  • student union

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Architecture
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History

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