Feature - May 19, 1999



A Critical Look at Princeton Architecture, and a Modest Proposal for a Return to Traditional Styles

By Catesby Leigh '79


Follow underlined links in text to view photos by J.I. Merritt '66 and Catesby Leigh


Perhaps fittingly as it approaches the new millenium, Princeton is in a state of architectural transition. Over the last two decades -- from the construction of Wu Hall in 1983 to the recent groundbreaking for the Frist Campus Center, scheduled for completion next year -- Robert Venturi '47 *50 and his partner and wife, Denise Scott Brown, have set the tone for most new campus architecture. Both as practicing architects and as theorists of the architectural school known as postmodernism, the Venturis have had more influence on Princeton's built environment than anyone since the university's collegiate-gothic era, most closely associated with the name of Ralph Adams Cram, who supervised the campus's architectural development for more than two decades.

With their fine stone masonry and beautiful detailing, gothic dormitories like Patton Hall (1906) or Cram's own Campbell Hall epitomize this architect's idea of "cultural continuity" in architecture. Here age-old architectural conventions have been embraced for maximum esthetic effect. Wu Hall is a case apart. Venturi has employed conventional architectural motifs in a studiously unconventional manner, partly as a reflection of the lack of continuity he perceives between architecture's cultural status in contemporary society and earlier epochs in Western civilization.

Like Patton and Campbell, however, Wu is a bird of a different feather from the cold, rational steel-and-glass boxes associated with Mies van der Rohe's modernist dictum that "Less is more." Nearly all the buildings that went up on campus in the pre-Venturi era of 1950 to 1980, from the drearily functional Engineering Quadrangle to the more complex and interesting Spelman Halls, can be classified as modernist.

Unfortunately, in the current transition one sees emerging a confusion of architectural styles dominated by a resurgent but heterogeneous modernism. In a way, this confusion recalls the romantic eclecticism that held sway on the campus for much of the 19th century -- until collegiate gothic was adopted as the definitive Princeton style.

Hence the new Princeton Stadium, whose austere geometric rationalism hearkens back to the "heroic" formal abstraction of an earlier day. The stadium bears no relationship to the Venturis' design philosophy. Two major projects to the east of Washington Road, the Friend Center for Engineering Education (in planning) and the Wallace Social Sciences Building (under construction), are also exercises in orthodox rectilinear modernism. These, in turn, are poles apart from three recent examples of architectural expressionism, in which the architects have given their fancies free rein: McDonnell Hall, a classroom facility grafted onto the Jadwin physics building; an addition to the Woolworth Music Center; and Scully Hall, the new mega-dormitory at the campus's south end.

For most alumni, the artistic ideal that united the efforts of Cram and his colleagues reflects the highest ideals of the university itself. Amidst the current confusion, one yearns for such an ideal, and indeed for a continuity with the best of Princeton's architectural heritage, whether gothic or classical. Contrary to widespread belief, this is a perfectly feasible option. But more on that later.



Princeton's new modernist phase marks the sixth epoch in the university's architectural history. The first began with Nassau Hall (1756), a building that, after a long series of refinements, is one of the nation's most dignified examples of Georgian classical architecture in the simplified version the American colonists developed. West College, Stanhope Hall, and Maclean House are also fruits of that early epoch, which lasted for nearly a century.

The next commenced with the design of the original Whig and Clio Halls in the late 1830s as stuccoed Greek Revival temples. (They were replaced by the familiar marble temples in 1893.) What developed over the next six decades was the typically 19th-century stylistic smorgasbord that gave Princeton buildings ranging from Victorian-gothic Chancellor Green, to "Italianate" Prospect House, to "Florentine palazzo" Brown Hall, to that poor man's gothic castle, Edwards Hall, to a gymnasium (no longer with us) designed in the manner of a French chateau, to Romanesque Alexander Hall, designed by William A. Potter and completed in 1892. Alexander's awkward massing and curious exterior polychromy are typical of much architecture of the romantic-eclectic era. Much more significantly, however, this building's exterior was endowed with a degree of surface enrichment such as the campus had never seen. J. Massey Rhind's broad, handsome panel showing Christ, Moses, and sundry practitioners of the arts and sciences is the most conspicuous feature of this enrichment.

Potter's variegated Princeton work also includes Chancellor Green and Witherspoon Hall, designed with his partner R.H. Robertson. He also inaugurated the third and arguably greatest phase in Princeton's architectural history along with the distinguished Philadelphia architects Walter Cope and John Stewardson. Competed in 1897, Potter's East Pyne and Cope and Stewardson's Blair and Little Halls were the campus's first collegiate-gothic buildings.

Cram, a great and strikingly inventive interpreter of the gothic, began his Princeton work in 1907, when he became supervising architect to the university. He abhorred the storybook picturesqueness that characterized much of the architecture of the eclectic period. His genius lay in his ability to hit on the right proportions in adjusting the main volumes of his buildings to one another and to exploit their sites for maximum esthetic effect. His Chapel and Graduate School thus convey an impression of dignity, of mass in repose, that is other-worldly. His firm's ornamental detailing, which Cram entrusted to assistants, was restrained but exquisite, and set the tone for the work carried out by others at Princeton under his supervision -- foremost among whom rank Frank Miles Day and Charles Z. Klauder of Philadelphia, whose Holder Hall and Tower were completed in 1911.

What lends Princeton's collegiate-gothic architecture its vitality is its designers' profound grasp of the style's expressive qualities. These range from contrasts of light and shade created by eaves, moldings, and even thick roof slates; to the varied tints of argillite, schist, and limestone masonry, and of roof slates as well; to the intricate profiles of oriels, crenellated tourelles and parapets, or elaborately wrought chimneys of stone or molded brick; to the rhythm of buttresses, battlements, and groin vaults. Then come the more figural delights of finials, bosses, crockets, traceried niches, and a vast cast of carved characters ranging from great men to grotesques. Whatever romantic appeal Princeton's collegiate-gothic architecture might hold for the spectator by virtue of its ancient symbols, associations, and stylistic conventions, its fundamental strengths are purely artistic. On the whole, it makes fuller and more harmonious use of architecture's various means of expression than the campus architecture of other stylistic periods.

The gothic held sway at the university for half a century, down to Dillon Gymnasium, Firestone Library, and 1915 Hall, which were completed between 1947 and 1949. From an architectural idiom whose conventions had been developed through centuries of trial and error, Princeton ventured, however tepidly, into a brave new world of design. Built in 1952, Corwin Hall is admittedly more moderne than modernist: a dumb red-brick box whose limestone ornament includes a primitivized eagle holding a shield of the United States in the bowed entrance bay.

Yet Corwin anticipates the emphatically rectlinear character -- the dominance of straight lines and right angles and the absence of curves -- of most of the architecture of Princeton's first modernist phase. The McCormick Hall/Art Museum addition of 1966 is one example, with its abstracted battlements consisting of upright slabs clad in purplish sandstone with travertine trim punctuated by glazed voids. The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library (1976), designed by Hugh Stubbins, is essentially an oblong brick box. The School of Architecture (1963) consists of a rectilinear reinforced-concrete frame filled in with panels of brick and glazing. Above the entrance level are boxy protrusions from the main building mass. I.M. Pei's Spelman Halls are more eye-catching. In plan, they are based on a replication of triangles rather than rectangles, and they boast picturesque cantilevers. Moreover, the structural articulation of these prefabricated-concrete erector sets is itself quite picturesque. But again, a relentlessly geometric conception dominates the scheme.

Nor are there any architectural curves to speak of in Edward Larrabee Barnes's New South (the administrative building near the PJ&B station, completed in 1965), or in the original buildings of Wilson College or the Engineering Quadrangle. Perhaps that's one reason for the presence, near E-Quad's entrance, of Upstart 2, Clement Meadmore's huge stylized metal phallus, which rises off a curvaceous base. No architectural curves are found, either, in the math-physics complex of Fine and Jadwin Halls (1968), or in Stubbins's New New Quad (built in 1964 and now part of Butler College), with the exception of the latter's bizarre curly-cued metal parapets, derided by two generations of students as "bicycle racks." The architects of Fine Tower did attempt to make this forbidding brown behemoth more interesting through the complex articulation of its chamfered corners. The result, observes Ben Kessler, an authority on Princeton's architecture, is an abstract rendition of Cram's Cleveland Tower.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rectilinear rule. Minoru Yamasaki's Robertson Hall (1965), home of the Woodrow Wilson School, has a wraparound porch with arched bays between tapering quartzite posts. But no architectural element, and of course no ornamental element, is brought to bear as a counterpart to the design's monotonous regularity. Walker O. Cain's Jadwin Gymnasium (1968) departs much more radically from geometric rationalism, quite possibly under the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright's romantic conception of organic architecture. Gwathmey and Siegel's 1970 renovation of Whig Hall turned its eastern façade into a cubist sculpture that includes curvaceous contours. They subsequently added a cylindrical volume to this composition, which seems to have resulted from a confusion of artistic premises.



The shortcomings of Princeton's modernist architecture suggest that romantic critics like Samuel Taylor Coleridge had good reason for speaking of beauty in art as a fusion of straight lines and curves. Straight lines, said Coleridge, correspond to "the confining form," to reason or law, while the shapely curves of a beautiful form correspond to a vital force he called "the free life." Both were essential elements of nature itself. We see this artistic synthesis at work, on the one hand, in the dominating lines of Princeton's finest gothic architecture and in the fact that the outlines of these buildings resolve into esthetically satisfying wholes even when the massing is asymmetrical. The "shapely," on the other hand, asserts itself through various channels ranging from the abstract curves of four-centered arches and the ribbing of vaulted passageways to the naturalistic curves in sculptural figures, be they of James Madison 1771, angels, bookworms, football players, tigers, rhinoceroses, crustaceans, roses, utterly fantastic creatures, or whatever.

At Nassau Hall, a splendid classical example of a broad mass in repose, the interplay between lines and curves is more abstract, but beautiful even so. The dominant horizontal lines are counterbalanced by the boldly articulated masonry surrounds with which John Notman, who renovated the building after an 1856 fire, enriched the round-headed main entry and window above, by the curves of his exquisitely proportioned two-tiered cupola, and by the Palladian windows of the south wing. The pair of tigers reposing on the cheekblocks in front of the building is the naturalistic icing on the cake. The result is an architectural ensemble of great resonance. Alexander Hall, for its part, is not endowed with Nassau Hall's beautiful proportions. Yet the building's combination of abstract and naturalistic lines, however imperfect, appeals at an instinctive level.

Indeed, great building traditions are founded not merely on man's need for shelter, but on his instinct to recreate the world on his own terms through the medium of design. Such traditions develop through a prolonged interplay between instinct and reason. Moreover, the tyranny of the straight line in so much of Princeton's early modernist architecture and in much of what is being built now is a profoundly revealing symptom. Far from being grounded in human instinct, modernist architecture arose as the rationalized expression of what was taken for a new epoch in human history in which Western design would start with a clean slate. Such expression is what Walter Gropius -- the guiding light at Harvard's Graduate School of Design when Pei, Barnes, and Stubbins studied there -- had in mind when he wrote in the 1930s that the Bauhaus was training "the architects of a new civilization," itself founded on the "new world order of the machine."

The origins of this outlook lie in a holistic notion of culture as a great organism whose various components, ranging from art to politics to technology, evolve more or less in lockstep as creatures of the Zeitgeist, or the spirit of the time. This paradigm's main roots are to be found in the 18th-century writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the founder of the academic discipline of art history, and of the philosopher and historian Johann Gottfried Herder. Goethe disseminated the views of both men. Over the last two centuries, their notion of culture has contributed mightily to the suppression of the deeply rooted instincts at the heart of great artistic traditions. It is reflected in the dogma of modernist pioneer Mies van der Rohe, who in 1924 asserted that just as the industrialized production of the automobile had done away with the hand-crafted horse-carriage, so must the traditional building crafts be supplanted by an architecture redefined in its artistic content as well as its method of construction by the industrial age. Such dogma transformed the architect into the heroic visionary who fathoms the essence of the Zeitgeist in redefining the terms of his art. Beauty took a back seat both to doctrinaire reductionism and the quest for original architectural expression of modernity, a quest that helps explain the varied character of Princeton's earlier modernist buildings, not to speak of those which have gone up more recently.

The Great Depression, moreover, produced a reaction against what social critic Thorstein Veblen had branded "conspicuous consumption." In Veblen's utilitarian scheme, Princeton's collegiate-gothic buildings would be prime examples of "archaism and waste." The new puritanism he nurtured helped ensure that in architecture, as classical architect Steven W. Semes puts it, "the minimum became the maximum." This new puritanism dovetailed with the new machine esthetic. More than the increased cost of labor and materials in the postwar era, modernist dogma effectively killed the crafts, especially stone-carving, on which collegiate gothic depended. The construction trades themselves went into decline, and shoddy workmanship and materials are not uncommon in the buildings erected at Princeton since the 1950s.



Robert Venturi denounced the reductionism afflicting orthodox modernist architecture in his extremely influential Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966). He and Scott Brown also have satirized the cult of the "heroic and original" architect. At the same time, they have accepted the industrialization of architecture as a fait accompli. For Venturi, moreover, it would be quixotic to attempt to build after the manner of Cram or a classicist like Charles Follen McKim, the architect of New York's late, great Pennsylvania Station and of Princeton's own FitzRandolph Gateway (1905), not only because of the limited resources available to contemporary architects, but also because the work of these masters doesn't mesh with the nature of contemporary experience as Venturi perceives it. McKim, Venturi avers, was drawn to classical forms and symbols as "elements representing ideals appropriate for an America finding itself when it was young and confident -- a very different America from that of today." But the cardinal factor in those forms' persistence over 2,500 years is their timeless sensual appeal, which is quite as capable of making itself felt in Venturi's America as it was in McKim's.

Moreover, the assumption that new technologies and traditional architecture don't mix is fallacious. In fact, computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) are making a major contribution to the revival of the traditional building arts, particularly stone-carving and woodwork. A case in point is Kevin Roche's virtually seamless addition of 1993 to the Jewish Museum in New York City. The museum's original building is a converted turn-of-the-century mansion designed in the French gothic manner. Roche's office created CAD files that provided three-dimensional profiles for the automated high-precision saws that cut the limestone masonry blocks and carved the highly intricate ornament. In essence, handwork was limited to finishing touches, and the savings on time and labor were enormous.

Yet another example -- one still more relevant to Princeton -- is the work-in-progress of London-based architect Demetri Porphyrios *80, who has designed a new gothic quadrangle (photos: A and B) for Magdalen College, Oxford. (Magdalen's 500-year-old Great Tower is a direct ancestor of Princeton's Holder Tower.) Digitally programmed saws are cutting the ocher-tinted Ketton stone for the facades of Porphyrios's buildings, which include a classical auditorium/art museum as well as three gothic residential buildings arranged on a raised grass terrace. Ornamental detailing, which Porphyrios uses sparingly, is being carved by hand.



Very different in its esthetic conception is the conversion of Palmer Hall (1908), the old physics laboratory, into the Frist Campus Center by Venturi Scott Brown Associates (VSBA). Built with red brick and limestone, Palmer was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, whose work includes Manhattan's Dakota Apartments and Plaza Hotel. Sculptures of Joseph Henry and Benjamin Franklin by Daniel Chester French adorn its entrance.

The siting for the Campus Center makes excellent sense. As Kessler notes, Cannon Green has long since ceased to serve as the focal point of the campus due to the eastward and southward drift of the university's postwar physical expansion. (That point, he only half-jokingly observes, is now the traffic light at the intersection of Washington Road and Prospect Avenue.) To deal with this change, VSBA is effectively converting 1879 Green, which lies north of Palmer, into the new Cannon Green. A series of indoor and outdoor spaces will flow south from the green through a free-standing arcade to be placed in front of the Campus Center, down broad flights of stairs and along three parallel indoor "streets" running from one end of the building to the other, and finally down another level and out onto a new lawn opposite Guyot Hall.

The indoor streets, situated a floor below the original building's main level, amount to the core concept for the Campus Center's Commons area. They are to be lined with amenities such as ATM and vending machines, a convenience store, a copy center and video-rental outlet, an information desk and ticket outlet, pay phones, computer terminals, and bulletin boards (both conventional and digital). On the periphery of this busy "clutter space" will be mailbox rooms, a pub, a café, and a lounge. The décor is to be emphatically informal, with painted walls of exposed brick and mechanical systems left exposed under the skylit ceiling.

One level below the Commons, a more formal dining area will look out on the south lawn and Guyot. On the upper levels, the Campus Center will include a lecture hall retained from the original building, a small theater, the Gest East Asian Studies Library, classrooms, and facilities for student organizations. Alterations will be less extensive above the basement level, and the fine architectural detail of the original building, both inside and out, will be largely retained.

Venturi likewise has preferred to leave Palmer's northern façade alone, but the Campus Center's significance demands a larger, more monumental entrance. Venturi's solution is the free-standing arcade, nearly 17 feet tall, which will define a courtyard-cum-pedestrian-path in front of the building. The arcade is derived from prototypes such as the loggias of the Piazza San Marco, in Venice, and English collegiate cloisters, of which Holder courtyard offers a gorgeous example.

But Venturi's arcade is a curious descendant indeed. Not only is it unattached to the building behind it, its bays are somewhat out of alignment with Palmer's façade. The arcade's widest bay is thus placed in front of the Palmer entrance, but not on axis with it. These rectilinear bays, moreover, amount to mere voids in a wall, and their unequal width is jarring. The words "Frist Campus Center" are themselves situated off-center on the arcade, and portions of the chunky, inelegant letters in the inscription awkwardly protrude above the arcade lintel. A further distortion is the arcade's inflection toward the Campus Center in the vicinity of the Woolworth Music Center. Though clad in limestone and brick, Venturi's arcade is endowed with none of the rhythmic consistency or formal appeal of a classical arcade or gothic cloister.

On the other hand, the arcade reflects the architect's notion of complexity and contradiction in design, as well as of tension and accommodation. His idea of "meaning" in architecture derives from the relationship between the part and the whole, whether in the context of a particular building or of a building's relationship to its neighbors. Venturi maintains that by using a conventional element unconventionally, one changes that element's meaning, as well as the significance of its context. "I love mannerism involving conventional detail used wrong, achieving valid ambiguity," he has written. But this essentially literary concept of design hardly serves the cause of beauty.

VSBA's Campus Center scheme also entails an addition on the south side of Palmer. An enclosed loggia with wildly overscaled windows at ground level serves as the arcade's counterpart, while above it an expansive window wall boasts a Princeton shield in frit. The addition's dismayingly boxy massing distinguishes it from most other work the firm has done on campus.

The key to the eventual success or failure of the VSBA scheme, however, lies with the Commons. Considered in functional terms, the Commons' design forthrightly addresses the need for a new campus focal point. The Venturis are widely respected for using buildings to define circulation networks and stitch the surrounding architectural fabric together. And whatever one's misgivings about the arcade's design, it at least has a role in a clearly articulated urbanistic scheme.

VSBA's Princeton work also includes Bendheim Hall (1991) -- with its pedimented marble signboard bent to "accommodate" Corwin, situated behind it at an oblique angle -- and the Thomas (1986) and Schultz (1993) laboratories on Goheen Walk.



Venturi's influence is abundantly evident in the Computer Science Building designed in the late 1980s by R.M. Kliment and Frances Halsband. Its asymmetrical and partly curvaceous massing, decorative interlacing of white brick headers with red stretchers, and emphatically flat surfaces are more or less of a piece with Wu and Thomas. Such signboard-like flatness is a quintessential element of Venturi's architectural vocabulary. Marx Hall (1993), designed by Kallman, McKinnell, and Wood, is a northern extension of 1879 Hall. Like 1879, it has a red brick façade. Unlike 1879, iy also has an abundance of conventional limestone detail "used wrong" and "signboard" gables whose flatness is proclaimed by ugly louvered slits for the building's air-circulation system.

Venturi's contextualism is reflected in Mitchell/Giurgola's 1989 addition to the Art Museum, which maintains the color tones of the original building, Cram's northern-Italian-gothic McCormick Hall. And like McCormick, the addition boasts a pitched roof with red terra cotta tiles. But it responds to the gracious composition and fenestration of Cram's building with little more than the usual boxy geometries.

Venturi's theories are also evident in two buildings of a decidedly expressionistic stripe, Bowen Hall (1993), the home of the Princeton Materials Institute, and Feinberg Hall (1986), a Wilson College dormitory. Designed by Alan Chimacoff, Bowen is located across Prospect Avenue from Charter Club. Its design revolves around a bewildering, polychromatic array of rectilinear grids: a frame of vertical and horizontal granite members, a metallic network of fins and bullnoses, and yet another network of window frames. The building also boasts expanses of brick. Chimacoff's bricks, however, are not only square rather than oblong, but deliberately indeterminate in color -- depending on the light, as the architect has noted, they might appear maroon, purple, or metallic.

In an analysis whose literary jargon brings Venturi to mind, Chimacoff has written that Bowen is an abstraction of materials science involving "purposeful ambiguity, where dissimilar or incompatible ideas and materials are brought together in ways that make them seem interchangeable: the inclusive or plausible oxymoron." Chimacoff's building brings a wide array of expressive devices into play, but serves mainly as an example of contemporary architects' rather frantic search for novelty, as well as ways of compensating for a pathologically abstract vocabulary. Bowen's design is excessively intellectualized, and its masses fail to resolve into a whole.

Feinberg, designed by Tod Williams '65, offers a more unified composition. But the architect resorted to "purposeful ambiguity" of color tone in his own right, and so Feinberg's unusually elongated bricks are polychromatically flecked, appearing brownish-purplish. At first sight, the building strikes one as an example of hard-edged, utterly self-referential modernism. But it doffs its cap to Venturi in several ways, including an overscaled fillet band of polished grayish-greenish slate leading to a distorted, slightly-recessed keystone over the side entrance. The elevator block-cum-stairwell on the north side of the building, on the other hand, is sculpturally configured as an abstract totem by means of a vertical opening in the brick cladding, a pair of slender vertical beams intersected by horizontal rails, and a glazed chevron canopy at the top. This is an expressionistic gesture worthy of a Le Corbusier devotee.

On the other side of Wilson courtyard, two attached red-brick dormitories by Koetter, Kim, and Associates, Clapp Hall and 1927 Hall (1987), are thoroughly postmodernist and seem rather reserved by comparison with Feinberg. Koetter, Kim's large addition to Firestone Library (1988), moreover, is fairly unobtrusive for the most part, an abundance of bizarre details notwithstanding. The Firestone addition entailed the creation of a skylit sunken court in front of the original building's northern façade. The university, however, wanted to retain some semblance of a public space on this side of the library, and so the addition is covered with a very oddly landscaped terrace while its own northern façade, which is quite low and runs along the Nassau Street sidewalk, might pass for a retaining wall. An emphatically obtrusive exception is the semicircular skylight the architects placed at the corner of Nassau Street and Washington Road. Modeled as a sort of semicircular limestone portico fitted with a lean-to glazed roof, this preposterous structure hardly enhances views of Cram's august Chapel.



Because the Frist Campus Center will have a major impact on the life of the university, it is a fitting culmination to VSBA's Princeton labors. The confusion of tongues to which the architectural theories of Venturi and Scott Brown are giving way, moreover, suggests that these theories are entitled to some respect even from those who disagree with them. This couple has taken stock of the development of America's built environment on the large scale, responded by formulating a coherent philosophy of design, and adhered to that philosophy while other architects drifted from one fad to the next.

The Spanish architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg's addition to the Woolworth Music Center (1997) is very much a part of the new modernist wave at Princeton, and is contextual in terms of materials only. The original Woolworth (1963) is endowed with the bare-boned geometries of most of Princeton's earlier modernist buildings, and Navarro Baldeweg has forsaken them for an array of oblique angles and tangled interior perspectives, plus a roof whose huge skylight panels are anything but an amenity to the campus skyline.

An altogether more enjoyable exercise in architectural deconstruction is Gwathmey and Siegel's McDonnell Hall (1997), which is attached to Stubbins' hopeless Jadwin Hall. McDonnell would be obnoxious elsewhere, but with neighbors like Fine and Jadwin, a building has the right to go bananas. McDonnell's Washington Road façade is particularly riotous. The architects have taken Jadwin's dull window bands and broken them up into disjointed segments recessed within irregular volumes resembling crazy rows of bureau drawers. These protruding "drawers" are clad in slanting metal panels with boldly articulated ridges. An irregular vaulted roof contributes to the antics by sloping over the façade in an irregular zig-zag. Because of these tricks, and because the building is situated on a grade tilted downward toward Lake Carnegie, the viewer is left wondering if the floors inside aren't tilted upward.

Rodolfo Machado's mainly red-brick Scully Hall takes the dismal proximity of New New Quad in stride, but is fairly expressionistic even so. Scully has three connected wings. The south wing is conceived as the centerpiece of an eventual triad of buildings arrayed in an arc at the south end of the campus, with a laboratory and another dormitory seen as possible future neighbors to the east and west. Machado has sought to enliven Scully's exterior with a random masonry pattern employing bricks in a wide variety of sizes. His stringcourse moldings, also of brick, are literally sharp-edged, and unappealing to the eye, especially compared to their molded limestone counterparts on the university's collegiate-gothic dormitories. The south wing's roof profile is a series of triangles, with square, grayish-green slates tilted at 45-degree angles. Skylight panels, more modestly scaled than those on the Woolworth addition, protrude above the roofline, as does a tower with the Princeton shield etched in metalwork. The curved façade facing Pardee Field is articulated with pre-cast panels of gray concrete whose rumpled configuration recalls the folds of an accordion. Machado's idiosyncratic brick masonry, abundance of oblique angles, and picturesque southern roofline notwithstanding, the Scully quad seems strangely lifeless.

Ironically, Machado's parking garage on Prospect Avenue (1991), a five-story structure that can accommodate 400 cars, is far more engaging. Above a first story that is largely brick, the building's exterior amounts to an intricate exercise in metallic widgetry -- what Venturi might call industrial rocaille -- complete with curvaceous, metal-mesh cornices that are wholly ornamental. An opening in the principal façade is configured as a window with vertical and horizontal girders for frames. Flanking this "window" are copper-paneled abstractions of shutters. Machado's garage, like McDonnell Hall, is the sort of absurdity that provokes laughter. It could do worse.

Far more down to earth, and of far greater significance to the university, is Rafael Viñoly's new horseshoe-shaped Princeton Stadium. The stadium works wonderfully well from a practical standpoint. Circulation is deftly handled; the stadium must be one of the easiest places in the world to spot people you know; facilities are conveniently located; and the sunken field provides an enhanced sense of intimacy. It is a pleasure to watch a football game there, but less so to visit the stadium when it's empty. The old problem of geometric reductionism asserts itself once again. Viñoly's arcade, though supposedly hearkening back to Palmer Stadium, is conceived merely in terms of rectangular voids in a grid of tannish concrete block with exposed gravel aggregate. When the Princeton shields on the metal-mesh gates are themselves contorted into squares, you start to wonder whether things are getting out of hand. Surely Coleridge would have thought so.

Rectilinear geometries also dominate two major architectural projects along McCosh Walk East: the Friend Center for Engineering Education, designed by Henry Cobb of Pei Cobb Fried and Partners; and the Wallace Social Sciences Building, designed by Peter Bohlin of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Venturi's emphasis on using buildings to define pedestrian spaces is evident in both cases, and both designs are splayed in plan as a result. Construction of the Friend Center, which will be located across from E-Quad and partly attached to Kliment and Halsband's Computer Science Building, will begin next year. Cobb's scheme includes a long, one-story limestone-and-glass facade aligned with William Street, and, behind this façade and at an oblique angle to it, a glass box aligned with Computer Science.

Just east of Corwin Hall and immediately behind Dial Lodge, construction of Wallace is now underway. To be clad in limestone, brick, and glass, Bohlin's design is largely limited in its architectural expression to horizontal projections such as sun shields and a metal entrance canopy perched on metal rafters and purlins. The design nevertheless includes some references to Princeton's traditional architecture. Slits in a brick signboard on Wallace's McCosh Walk elevation are a threadbare variation on Gothic crenellation. Broad-eaved roofs derived from Prospect House crown stairwells at each end of the building. Wallace's slightly distorted plan, moreover, allows the building to define McCosh Walk while relating it to Corwin. But a triangular glazed volume juts awkwardly from the building along the walk, its roof sloping down over a stairway to the lower level.

The Friend and Wallace designs attest that we're still stuck with an architecture in which the minimum is the maximum. Only one recent building on campus is even remotely traditional -- the Center for Jewish Life (1993), designed by Robert A.M. Stern, now dean of Yale's architecture school. This building, located just south of Terrace Club on Washington Road, brings it all together: a Prairie Style roof that is pitched too low and ineptly replicates the gorgeous sagging contour of Charter Club's roof; fenestration that refers to both the Prairie Style and Princeton's collegiate-gothic architecture; a Spanish-vernacular stucco façade; Viennese Secession lamp fixtures; Arts and Crafts strap-hinged doors; a Richardsonian Romanesque eyebrow window; and Wu Hall's semicircular Roman-bath window, deliberately located in the wrong place -- the kind of architectural in-joke Venturi might approve. The building is nothing more than a pastiche.


* * *

So what to make of contemporary Princeton architecture? The bottom line is that it's in a rut, and has been for some time. The modernist habit of reinventing the wheel has long since degenerated into a parody of itself. At the same time, ancient architectural conventions continue to be profoundly relevant to what we build today. Those architectural conventions exist, above all, for the sake of beauty. And beautiful forms have an emotional resonance that corresponds, however mysteriously, to the highest human intentions, to our sense of "ought." What Princeton is building now, however, speaks of "is." This is architecture stripped of its ideal content, architecture whose spiritual horizons have narrowed to the point of utter inconsequentiality. Like so many American institutions, Princeton is the poorer for this.

But unlike most other American institutions, Princeton has a great heritage of built form which speaks of what architecture can and should be. The university has ample room to expand south of the existing campus, as well as westward along the College Road corridor, and presumably will do so in the 21st century. The question facing Princeton is not whether it can afford to follow Magdalen College's example by drawing on its own great building traditions, classical or gothic, but whether it can afford not to.


Catesby Leigh, a past contributor to PAW on various architectural subjects, has written architectural criticism for Classical America, an arts organization in New York; The Classicist, the journal of the Institute for the Study of Classical Architecture at New York University; and Sacred Architecture, the journal of the Institute for Sacred Architecture in Notre Dame, Indiana.

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