Steven Holl Concept
Design Embraces Campus and Community
A major entry to the Princeton campus and community is being redesigned as a 21st-century portal with the door lodged firmly open.
The concepts by Steven Holl Architects for the initial academic buildings in the new Arts and Transit Project show a proposed three-sided complex situated on Alexander Street and University Place across from Forbes College and McCarter Theatre. It will be home to the University's Lewis Center for the Arts, as well as several performance and teaching spaces for the Programs in Theater and Dance, the Department of Music and the Fellows in the Creative and Performing Arts program.
"Among the many things I love about Steven Holl's initial design is the extent to which it incorporates a very potent feature of the archetypical Princeton courtyard," said Paul Muldoon, founding chair of the Lewis Center. "One has heard the architecture of Princeton likened to that of Oxford. There's a subtle, but significant, difference. The Oxford quadrangle has four sides and a door that says, 'Stay out.' The Princeton courtyard has three sides and no doors or gates. It says, emphatically, 'Come in.'
"Steven Holl's design echoes that three-sided aspect," he continued. "It is an embodiment of Princeton University's deep desire to open its arms to the Princeton community. The building is itself offering an embrace."
Holl said, "This is not like the other squares of the campus. It's more like another town square. There will be events at night. People will come here. It isn't like the campus is pushing out; this is like an indentational space that becomes a shared space that everyone is invited to. There are no closed gates here."
This area, already home to the McCarter Theatre Center's Matthews and Berlind theaters, is considered an ideal location for various facilities the University needs to meet the goals of the creative and performing arts initiative announced by President Shirley M. Tilghman in January 2006.
Emily Mann, artistic director of McCarter Theatre, said "We are very excited by the potential of the arts and transit neighborhood. The opportunities that it will present promise to be a great addition to McCarter Theatre and our patrons."
A special project
Holl's award-winning firm, which has extensive experience in the arts, was named as the architect for the project in January 2008.
"It's a very special project for me because I know that it's so complicated," Holl said.
He said he was inspired by a talk Muldoon gave to the community about the ability to view arts activity serving as a catalyst.
Encompassing about 139,000 gross square feet, the three contemporary buildings will share a common reception area and will house several public spaces, including an art gallery, a black box theater, a dance studio and a music rehearsal room. The latter three are designed to serve as both rehearsal and performance venues. Building materials will be a combination of stone and several types of glass, and Holl is intending a transparency that will allow inviting views into the arts activities.
"You will feel like you're almost inside when you're outside and you're passing through," he said. "Paul Muldoon's inspiration mixed really well with my idea of porosity."
University Place would be extended as a pedestrian walkway and pass through the complex along a courtyard before coming to a new transit plaza and Dinky station to the south.
In the plans, the courtyard is built around a shallow pool. The water would be allowed to freeze in the winter, so in all seasons the pool is translucent and a piece of art itself. The pool would have skylights that would provide natural light to the large reception space below called the forum, which would connect the buildings on the lower level.
The buildings also would house faculty and administrative offices, smaller acting and dance studios, music practice rooms and a box office.
According to Chris McVoy, senior partner at Steven Holl Architects, the buildings are designed to be set into the site in a way that minimizes their height. "This gives it the right scale relative to the community as well as the adjacent University facilities," he said.
The complex will be a model when it comes to sustainability, McVoy said. In addition to having the pool for daylighting the forum, the facility will be covered with green roofs made of sedum. Geothermal wells are planned to provide energy to heat and cool the complex.
Experience in the arts
Holl, whose firm has offices in New York and Beijing, was named America's Best Architect by Time magazine in July 2001 for "buildings that satisfy the spirit as well as the eye." The firm has extensive experience in the arts.
He designed an expansion and renovation of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., which opened in June 2007. The project included creating five glass pavilions that draw light down into galleries that are banked into the hillside.
Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker, wrote that Holl had produced a "striking and inventive a piece of architectural form," and described it as "a serene and exhilarating place in which to view art." The project won a 2008 Institute Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.