February 12, 2003: Letters

Architectural values

Residential-college life

Seven-week rule a bust

Stress no more

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Architectural values

As any student of architecture will know, the style of a building holds less meaning than its intrinsic qualities of design (how it addresses the site, how it arranges the program, how it is scaled, how it either references or rejects precedent). By focusing on style, we are appealing to the lowest common denominator of a society that is increasingly illiterate in architectural history, and we are failing in the mission to educate, enlighten, and advance critical thought.

Mark S. Reed ’89
Watertown, Mass.


The writer is an architect.

The article “One Campus, Different Faces” on the new Whitman College, being designed by Demetri Porphyrios *80, and the new science library, being designed by Frank Gehry (cover story, December 18), brings to mind the famous distinction by C. P. Snow between the humanities and the sciences. The two projects surely represent that dichotomy.

In an age when the loss of ethics in U.S. society is demonstrated by the likes of Enron, Worldcom, and other signs of deterioration, and when at the same time civilization is under siege by unrepresentative adherents of Islam, collegiate gothic calls to mind the formation of the first universities in the West and the gothic styles that represent them.

Ethics and principle have been similar since man began to think, and the first universities centered on those matters. Honesty, civility, recognition of the importance of the other person, and the primacy of integrity are values that do not change. If not always adhered to, they were the same when the first universities arose in the West in the 12th and 13th centuries and in the great centers of learning in such older cities as Baghdad, Cairo, and Alexandria.

Continuing a section of the campus that expresses the permanence of honesty, integrity, and other values emphasized by the first western universities is surely a tribute to Princeton’s dedication to these principles. Walter T. Stace, of Princeton’s philosophy department, discussed the purpose of a university in terms of passing on to succeeding generations the principles and learning of the past.

The dominant thinking of the 21st and 20th centuries, however, relates to the natural sciences, engineering, and technology, particularly as exemplified in the West. Science has been the dominant area of intellectual development since the 17th century.

Gehry’s building will express that atmosphere beautifully without succumbing to the box-like fashion that so much of early modern architecture adopted. Of course, today’s students want buildings that express the contributions to the culture of their own time. Both faculty and students will be exhilarated by the opportunity to study in a Gehry building, but it should be possible to live and work in architecture that both calls on the permanent values most of us recognize and also expresses the soaring ambitions of the sciences and technology.

While many fear the dichotomy to which C. P. Snow called attention, there is no necessary conflict. A modern university can encourage the interaction of the two kinds of discipline by its architecture as well as by its teaching.

Edward A. Woolley ’51
Nantucket, Mass.


I have long scorned Frank Gehry’s work as egotistical messes inspired by what one finds in the scrap bin of a sheet metal shop. His proposed design for the science library, however, displays a pleasing and architectural organization of forms. Maybe this will be a building of which Princeton will be proud many years after Mr. Gehry’s celebrity status has faded.

Peter B. Humphrey ’68
Jersey City, N.J.


Omigod, authentic Old Fogeydom: writing PAW for the first time!

While I understood that Fred Bernstein ’77’s lively comparison (December 18) between Frank Gehry’s radical design for the library and Demetri Porphyrios’s conservative design for Whitman College emphasized the contrast of two different aesthetic philosophies, I was struck by what he left unaddressed: Great universities in the new millennium should make environmental considerations fundamental to their planning. The cultural historian Thomas Berry takes to task four institutions still reluctant to accentuate ecological challenges: corporations, governments, churches, and universities. May Princeton lead in proving Berry wrong.

Winslow Myers ’62
Paxton, Mass.


Are these buildings to become architectural delights and environmental disasters? Are the university’s architects designing from the past or toward the future? Since most of us have children and grandchildren and care about their quality of life as well as our own, these are important questions for all of us. Either path may include both gothic and modernist skins; the heart of the matter, though, is whether these buildings will use renewable resources. Will the buildings gain daily energy for heating and cooling from the sun or will they use oil that accumulated over thousands of years?

On the West Coast, a large number of cities, states, and colleges and universities have adopted the National Green Building Council’s LEED standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which call the builder’s attention to values such as designing into the project energy savings from solar heating and natural ventilation, utilizing insulating window glass and efficient heating systems, and using recycled and natural materials, locally manufactured to conserve on transportation energy. Oberlin College has constructed a classroom building that heats and air conditions itself naturally and purifies its own waste water with living plant colonies. Princeton could lead the way in these areas using just the talent on the faculty. Certainly we should not be lagging behind.

It seems odd that no mention was made in Fred Bernstein’s article about these values. I cannot imagine a design team in our century that does not discuss them, weighing whether or not to adopt the LEED standards, and reaching some specific conclusions.

Jim Newcomer ’57
Fairview, Ore.

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Residential-college life

I just read Steve Caputo ’01’s article on PAW Online: “Four-year residential colleges, what’s to come?”

I feel the subject matter has not had its deserved airing, specifically among alumni. Crucial questions regarding the future of Princeton deserve the insight of alumni as well as students.

I am excited to see that some alumni are getting actively involved in the struggle for defining the Princeton of the future (this should not be an issue exclusively for big donors and trustees). With the right spark, the alumni community may be encouraged to observe the example of the students, faculty, etc. who participated in the two Prospects competitions mentioned in the article, and throw their voices into the relatively quiet debate that is rapidly shaping the future of Princeton.

Adriel Mesznik ’01
New York, N.Y.


I hope that members of the trustee committee and the university staff responsible for “integrating” Whitman College into campus life will read Caputo’s thoughtful piece about the four-year college plan. A win-win scenario is possible — and a little planning and foresight could make the difference.

N. J. Nicholas Jr. ’62
New York, N.Y.
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Seven-week rule a bust

Why are the Ivy presidents telling student-athletes that what they do is not valuable and that dedication to reaching one’s potential is not important? The members of the Varsity Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, who serve as the voice of all student-athletes on campus, are insulted by our president’s suggestion that we need to broaden our Princeton experience and, by taking athletics away from us, this rule is giving us a “push” to do so. This is a hot topic on all Ivy campuses, and we could not agree more with Mr. Leighton’s letter (December 18).

Jason White ’03
Princeton, N.J.

The writer is the captain of the men’s soccer team.

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Stress no more

I was dismayed to read that 45.6 percent of the students reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function at least once during the school year. The situation is so bad that Marvin Geller has had to hire a staff of 10 to conduct the psychological and counseling services required. At the risk of being politically incorrect, I would suggest that the admission office require some minimum level of emotional stability in addition to the other admission criteria. The ability to cope will always be a needed talent in our changing world.

David Dennison ’42
Carefree, Ariz.
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