January 29, 2003: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters. We may edit them for length,
accuracy, clarity, and civility.
While I am always excited to have architecture as a part of the Princeton discussion, I feel that much of the debate in PAW has been disappointingly superficial and draped in fuzzy nostalgia.
Lost in the reverie about the collegiate-gothic buildings of our campus is the most critical question: What is it that we all love about these buildings? Their size and scale? Is it the way one understands his or her own size relative to them? Is it how they relate to the buildings around them? The way they enclose exterior space? Their materials? Their slate-clad sloping roofs? The way their individual windows identify individual spaces within? Is it the uniqueness of their rooms no two alike? Or is it just their pointed arches? Of all these questions, only the last involves a specific architectural style.
While it is difficult to interpret others thoughts, I believe that the dissatisfaction by alumni with most of the modern buildings on campus has more to do with these matters than they do with specific questions of style; the frustration is with the lack of humanism in the buildings all the other things I ask about. One can (and should, I believe) try to find the right answers to these questions in campus design. Further, the issues of Princetons identity, continuity, and neighborhood coherence are certainly important. I am happy that the university is addressing these matters; I just wish that it did not feel it necessary to do so by having buildings that are so literally imitations of the past.
Jeffrey D. Peterson 84
This is in response to the letter of Jim Moses 88 (November 20) complaining about the selection of architect for the new Whitman College and espousing, as best as I can decipher, architectural eclecticism based on periodic styles. Something like, the campus as an architectural laboratory.
The response is simple, Jim: Nope. Gothic is better.
And it is not a case of sentimentality as you suggest. It has to do with a sense of institutional coherence, legacy, identity, and, I must say, beauty. See Keatss Ode on a Grecian Urn.
Thank you, Dr. Tilghman.
Jan Andrew Buck 67
Catesby Leighs treatment of Princeton architecture in your May 1999 issue was more than a survey. It was an attack on the modernist buildings erected on the campus since WWII and drew a devastating contrast between these and those in the collegiate-gothic style. The latter not only give the campus its character, but the former were described as insensitive to their context and in many cases feeble even within the modernist vein. It could be surmised that this article strongly influenced the choice of Demetri Porphyrios *80 as the architect for Whitman College.
If that is so then Mr. Leigh is to be thanked, for there is indeed no reason why buildings in the collegiate-gothic style should not continue to be built at Princeton.
Mr. Porphyrios says that classicism (and presumably gothic) is not a style, but rather a question of basic structural methods. This attempt at evading the derogatory insinuations of failing to be sufficiently modern is beside the point. I and many others support an architecture that tries to bring a traditional idiom into comfortable alliance with an appropriate context opposed to staking all on some newly original conceit or conceding to the ever-present bottom line. Anyway, by now modernism and post-modernism can also be seen as styles.
Mr. Porphyrios may use a gothic or classical style and the appropriate construction methods giving these styles authenticity. But he is a contemporary architect. A close examination of Porphyrioss buildings reveals an originality in his choice of material and
treatment of surfaces, in the design and placing of appropriate ornament, in the creation and relation of masses and the delicate molding of the style within which he is working to its site. These fundamental choices make architecture an art. I for one congratulate Princeton on a choice giving us a continuity with its gothic structures, new buildings that, in juxtaposition, will enliven them as in a conversation rather than an argument.
Gary Walters 64 *75
I read with interest about the increased demand for mental health services, not only at Princeton but at other elite universities as well. I wonder if there is a correlation between this growing demand and Princetons admission policy (Cover story, November 20).
Those who are admitted to Princeton are brilliant and leaders in their own fields. But are they mentally prepared? Perhaps, in the future, all those admitted should undergo psychological testing as well as the numerous academic tests they have to endure. Turning out a lot of gifted students with mental problems doesnt seem to be a very intelligent approach to life.
John F. Bryan 52
The counseling I received during my senior year has paid continuing dividends for 30 years. Its the best investment of time I made at Princeton.
Bill Goodman 73
I enjoyed Joel Achenbach 82s reflections on the Princeton of his day and today (Perspective, November 20). He recalls snoozing in red gothic armchairs in a small room on B level of Firestone Library whose name he cant recall but that was devoted to sporting books, and where smoking was permitted. The name of this cozy, albeit smoke-filled, retreat was the Rockey Room, named for Kenneth H. Rockey 16. The room housed his collection of angling books as well as other volumes dealing with hunting, horsemanship, and other field sports. The Rockey Room and adjacent Kienbusch Room (housing the fishing books of Carl Otto von Kienbusch 06) vanished in a fit of library reorganization in 1990 or thereabouts and their contents removed to Rare Books and the general stacks.
Achenbachs recollection omits one detail relevant to the only room in Firestone, as I recall, that allowed smoking. The Rockey Room reeked of stale tobacco and lay thick in a carcinogenic haze. Lining its walls were cabinets filled with life and mostly death masks of historic people. These artifacts were part of the Laurence Hutton Life and Death Mask Collection, memorably described by Wes Tooke 98 in Immortality in Plaster, the PAW cover story of December 16, 1998.
J. I. Merritt 66
Editors note: J. I. Merritt is a former editor of PAW.
Joel Achenbach 82s story of repatriation upon campus as a visiting professor was a brief, bright, and brilliant gem of humor.
Mr. Achenbach mentioned the peculiar and particular small Firestone Library room (obliterated by recent renovations and so nonexistent), once devoted exclusively to sporting books. I recall a sign in the stairwell leading to the same curiously cozy room that announced its location on B Floor (where someone had reflectively scrawled the appropriate adjunct, and Aftler.)
My reflection upon the demise of that splendid little refuge of specialized books leads me to conclude the wisdom of the sage Buddha, who taught through his Three Marks of Existence of the impermanence of all things. And this reflection in turn leads to my realization that my Princeton is really no longer there; instead it resides in the . . . photo album I keep in my head of my four years at Princeton . . . , as so refreshingly cited by Charles Collin 88, in his letter-to-the-editor found in the same issue.
So, Princeton belongs not so much to me or to any of my fellow alums as it does to the four classes matriculating there now, each at their various stages of completion (and a big locomotive to them from the heart of this well-wishing alumnus).
Oh yeah, and that small room on B Level, the name of which Joel Achenbach 82 could not recall: It was named the Rockey Room and housed his angling collection; for some reason I have always managed to remember that.
Rocky Semmes 79
Editors note: The I. Kenneth H. Rockey 16 Angling Collection includes about 4,300 volumes, mainly American and English 19th- and 20th-century books about angling in fresh and salt water.
Princeton is indeed fortunate to have Daniel Kahneman on its faculty. The fact that as a psychologist he received the Nobel Prize in economics is indicative of how he, together with his collaborator Amos Tversky, has made fundamental contributions across disciplinary boundaries. Even many years ago, when I met Amos Tversky and his colleague Maya Bar Hillel when they each visited Harvard, it was clear that their contribution to understanding clinical judgment raised central questions about the nature of human rationality under conditions of uncertainty.
Thus, when in 1981, together with Robert Hamm 72, I coauthored a book, Medical Choices, Medical Chances: How Patients, Families and Physicians Can Cope with Uncertainty, we found it essential to cite their early work. Today, now illuminated by Kahneman and Tverskys work, exploring the relationship between human judgment and motivation under conditions of uncertainty continues to be a great adventure.
Harold J. Bursztajn 72, M.D.
I would like to propose a special category under which applicants could seek admission to Princeton: individuals who have demonstrated through their interest, creativity, and actions prior to their admission that they would basically die to have a Princeton education.
Admission to the university would be a high school form of the Harold W. Dodds award. Applicants considered in this group would be those who in their pre-Princeton years helped strengthen and advance Princeton as a preeminent learning center. Since ambition almost always trumps brilliance in an individuals ability to make a contribution in this world, this admission category should identify many individuals who, after graduation, would exemplify Princeton in the nations service.
Legacy applicants might well have an advantage in this admission category since their parents could have inculcated their own love of the university throughout their childrens upbringing.
Kim J. Masters 68
A hundred and sixty years ago, Marcus Whitman, a missionary of Walla Walla, Washington, on learning that the missionary board back East intended to close two local missions, rode horseback to Boston that winter to protest the abandonment. He followed this up, in Washington, D.C., by urging President Polk to strengthen the countrys interests in the Northwest to compete with those of the British.
Assured by the president that he could grant the request if Whitman could lead more settlers into the area, Whitman led a thousand people into the fertile valley of the Willamette River, thereby saving for the U.S. the great empire of what became the Oregon Territory.
In 1847, Whitman and his wife were among those massacred by the Cayuse Indians, but their reputation lives on. The mascot for Whitman College, of Walla Walla, Washington: The Fighting Missionaries.
Princetons evolving Whitman College could hardly have a more dramatic namesake.
Keen James 51
In our story on the Art Museum (Notebook, November 20) we misstated the provenance of Saint Bartholomew by Pinturicchio. It was never owned by the Louvre. PAW regrets the error.
Our story on Princetonians who won elections in November (Notebook, December 4) left out Jim Marshall 72, a Democrat, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 3rd District of Georgia.