October 11, 2000
1926, Princeton president John Grier Hibben, Class of 1882, wrote,
"Everywhere in America, increased student enrollment and a
growing complexity of college life which has kept pace with the
life about it, has presented the same problem: how to centralize
and integrate undergraduate life."
Hibben's words were an
introduction to a proposal for "A Center For Undergraduate
Life at Princeton," in which he sought "a common ground
for campus life at Princeton" where
"scattered campus interests" might "gather under
the Princeton shield."
Sound familiar? Hibben's
plea for "common ground" has been echoed time and again
throughout the past century by Princeton students, faculty, and
administrators. Many would say it has never adequately been addressed.
But this fall's opening of the Frist Campus Center may finally bring
to an end this decades-long quest for communal space.
The avowed mission of
the Frist Campus Center, says Paul Breitman, its director, is "to
build a sense of community by providing an inviting, inclusive,
and exciting gathering place for everyone - undergraduates, graduate
students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the university."
Breitman, formerly associate dean for student centers and student
activities at Rutgers University, was named director of the Frist
Campus Center in January. "I had worked with campus centers
for 30 years," he says, "but I was new to Princeton. I
needed to become a member of the community and get a sense of its
expectations." So Breitman, a man of seemingly limitless energy,
visited departments, offices, and classrooms, held open meetings,
solicited campus-wide opinion, and gave tours to any interested
comer at all stages of the building's construction.
building, which opened in September and will be officially dedicated
October 20, is worth a tour. The six-level, $48-million Frist Campus
Center, constructed in and around a gutted and renovated Palmer
Hall, combines, in the words of President Shapiro, "old charm
and new technology." Architectural elements of the original
Palmer Physics Lab remain to speak of Princeton's history, enhanced
and vastly expanded into the current 185,000-square-foot space.
Designed by Robert Venturi
'47 *50 of Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates, Frist is shaped
like a square doughnut. The north side retains Palmer's massive
wooden doors and the arched entrance familiar to physics students
of old, but also offers two broad flanking entrances to the lower
levels of the building, as well as a not uncontroversial entrance
arcade set in front of the main building. The south side boasts
an entirely new wing - embracing what was the façade of the
old Palmer Hall - and a huge window-wall facing Guyot Hall. In effect,
there is no longer a front and back, but rather two fronts.
But it's what's inside
that university officials hope will draw the campus community together:
classrooms in which every seat has its own high-speed Internet connection;
a movie theater that accommodates 198 on the floor and 43 in the
balcony; a lecture hall for 192 that has been restored to its condition
at the time of Palmer's 1909 dedication (with the addition of a
few 21st-century niceties, such as data and video projection capability,
audio systems, and remote-controlled chalkboards). There are study
lounges, reading areas, computer clusters, and TV lounges; offices
for the Undergraduate Student Government and the Graduate Student
stations for student
activity groups; common areas that include a couple of billiards
tables; and space for the Women's Center, the International Center,
the new Community Service Center, and the Orange Key Guide Service.
(Orange Key tours will now start from Frist rather than from Maclean
House.) Frist also offers conveniences such as a mailing service,
a U-Store branch, cash machines, and a ticket office for on-campus
events. Upperclass mailboxes are located on the first floor.
Also featured in the
center are faculty offices, administrative offices, and classrooms
for the Near Eastern Studies and East Asian Studies departments;
the language lab; an expanded Gest Oriental Library, and a suite
housing the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. Frist's blending
of academic and nonacademic environments may be unique among college
Interior decorative elements
include, on the lower level, brightly painted walls drawn with "institutional
graffiti" - quotes from famous Princetonians lettered on the
brick. "Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment"
comes from Lewis Thomas '33, while Adlai Stevenson '22 offers, "Before
you leave, remember why you came." Display cases adorning a
staircase feature documents and artifacts relating to Princeton
student life. And on a stairwell leading down from the original
Palmer entrance will be an orange-and-black plaque inscribed with
the names of everyone who participated in the 250th-anniversary
campaign. The 58,455 names, inscribed in no particular order, should
provide some 77 percent of alumni with an excuse to spend hours
in Frist, searching for their piece of Princeton immortality. The
plaque will be installed in the spring.
No doubt the main attraction
of the center, however, will be the food. A food gallery, operated
by Princeton's Dining Services, offers a Mongolian Grill, a deli,
a salad bar, stations providing vegetarian and various ethnic cuisines,
and, oh yes, pizza. Dining Services also runs a café and
what is called the Beverage Lab, a small space offering smoothies
and other drinks - including alcoholic ones to those over 21 - light
food, and a couple of TVs. Students can pay for food at all of these
spots with points on their ID cards. They can also sign up for a
full meal plan - from six meals a week up to a full 20 - making
Frist perhaps Princeton's first legitimate, non-cook-it-yourself,
upperclass dining alternative to the eating clubs since 1856.
ean of the School of
Architecture Ralph Lerner commented in 1993, "Princeton is
extraordinarily rich in numerous, wonderful private spaces, yet
surprisingly poor in its number and type of truly public spaces."
With Frist in operation, Lerner's observation may no longer apply.
Yet, spectacular as is the new Frist Campus Center, director Breitman
himself points out, "Buildings don't create community; people
It is the search for
community, not only for expanded facilities, that has fueled the
campus center movement over the years. Hibben was not the first
nor the last Princeton president to experience rising enrollment
and an increasingly complex society, or to wring his hands over
the divisiveness of the eating clubs; little wonder that the pressure
for a campus center has continued on the Princeton campus - much
of it initiated by students.
The 1954 dedication of
the Chancellor Green Student Center itself was the result of several
years of fundraising and student activism. "The Campus Center
at Princeton," an undated brochure signed by William M. Ruddick
'53, solicits support and pleads for "a unifying facility .
. . a 'room' in the Princeton household." A Daily Princetonian
of the period lamented "severely compartmentalized" campus
Barry Langman '90, who
chaired the USG's undergraduate life committee in 1989, participated
in a vociferous "Campus Center Now" movement because,
he says, "I believed (and still believe) that one of Princeton's
greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses is the way it creates
microcosms. Given the multiplicity of ethnic- and interest-based
student groups - which in general add so much to student life -
Princeton can start to feel Balkanized." And according to one
junior, many current undergraduates continue
to find Princeton "pretty fragmented."
One of the groups most
eager to be included in campus life is Princeton's graduate student
body. "For years," says Lauren Hale, a graduate student
in the Woodrow Wilson School, "graduate students have felt
segregated from undergraduate students." There's more than
geography at work, believes Hale, who chairs the Graduate Student
Government (formerly the Graduate Student Union): "Graduate
students have to pay to attend sports events, and undergraduates
don't. Undergraduates have access to our dorms with their prox cards,
but we don't have reciprocal access to their dorms."
Hale hopes that the Frist
Center will mitigate "some of these social imbalances."
More important, she says, is that Frist might become "a comfortable
environment in which graduate students can relax, and interact with
the undergraduates." She notes, "The GSG will have a nice
office with desks and file cabinets. We will be working near the
USG, sharing a common conference
"I hope the Frist
Center works," she says. "A lot of energy has gone into
The current project took
a giant step forward with President Shapiro's 1993 strategic planning
report, Princeton University - Continuing to Look Ahead. In that
document, Shapiro wrote, "I concur in the broad consensus that
has emerged at Princeton over recent years that the time has come
to construct a new campus center . . . that . . . would serve and
bring together students (graduate as well as undergraduate), faculty,
and staff, as well as alumni, parents, and other visitors to the
Vice president and secretary
Thomas Wright has been involved in the project since its inception.
He says that, though the impulse to create a campus center has existed
for many years, there have also been various forces militating against
it. "For example, there was a period when the eating clubs
and their graduate boards saw a center as something that would adversely
affect membership; more recently, they have come to see the center,
in its present location, as a connecting link to the campus rather
than something that could draw members away." Similarly, he
says, "For a time, the residential colleges and masters were
ambivalent, seeing the center as a possible threat to internal cohesion;
now, the colleges are well established and the center is seen simply
as an enhancement to student life."
Michael Jennings hopes
Frist will be just that. Chair of the department of Germanic languages
and literatures, Jennings served on several Frist-related committees,
including the most recent Campus Center Committee. "I really
hope that the center will serve the entire constituency implied
in its name," Jennings says. "Princeton needs a focal
point for the thousands of directions in which people run, and this
should be it."
After the years of planning,
the campus climate seemed favorable at last in the late 1990s. When,
in 1997, the Frist family - including Tennessee senator and university
charter trustee William Frist '74, his brother Thomas Frist Jr.,
and the latter's two sons, Thomas III '91 and William '93 - gave
the $25-million gift that made the project financially feasible,
everything fell into place. Wright remembers Shapiro commenting,
"At a certain point, the stars must have aligned."
The Frist Center clearly
represents the culmination of years of thought and effort on the
part of several generations of students, faculty, alumni, and administrators.
Is it perfect? Probably not. Will it instantly meld Princeton's
previously "fragmented" environment into one community?
Still, in this autumn
of 2000, there is hope that eventually, as one senior says, "the
Frist Center will be a place everyone on campus can call home."
Princeton writer Caroline
Moseley is a frequent contributor to PAW.
of Frist Campus Center, shown as if looking at the center from Washington
Road, shows how the new building incorporates Palmer Physics Lab
(right and rear of drawing).
B Level: Multipurpose
A Level: Food Gallery;
dining room with seating for 270; private dining room
100 Level: Café
with seating for 150; Beverage Lab; 3 lounges; Welcome desk; Ticket
office; 2 billiards tables; U-Store branch; convenience store; upperclass
services; ATM machines, pay phones, and e-mail terminals
200 level: Student government
offices; Near Eastern Studies and East Asian
Studies classrooms and
offices; Women's Center; International Center; Community Service
Center; 6 seminar rooms; common areas, 4 computer clusters
300 Level: Film and performance
hall with seating for 241; 192-seat lecture hall; McGraw Center
for Teaching and Learning; Gest Oriental Library (2 stories);
4 seminar rooms; reading
room; computer cluster
400 Level: Gest Oriental
Library; theater balcony and dressing rooms
On the Web: www.princeton.edu/~frist