In the popular mythology of the Sixties, few episodes loom as large as the SDS-led student takeover of Columbia University. On April 23, 1968, protesters seized five buildings and under the scrutiny of the world brought a distinguished university in America’s largest city to a standstill. For a week, a picturesque gallery of characters, including Tom Hayden, Mark Rudd, and Stokely Carmichael, erected barricades, ransacked offices, issued communiqués, and held interminable meetings. The occupation culminated, as was surely intended, in a rather brutal police action, but by then it had already become one of the mythic events of that turbulent decade. Now, on its thirtieth anniversary, a curious symposium was held at Columbia to take stock of the event—or, more precisely, of one part of the event: the relationship of the Columbia takeover to architecture.

At first glance,...


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