While I was never particularly thrilled about the proposed
addition of a Frank Gehry "collectible" to Princeton's architectural
scene, the recent shoot-out at Peter B. Lewis'sGehry building at Case
Western University raises new causes for concern.
Because of Gehry's trademark dipping and curving hallways,
police were unable to return any clear shots against the suspect's barrage
of firepower, resulting in a seven-hour stand-off that left one student
dead and two injured. God forbid that such a horrible scenario ever play
out at Princeton, but in today's world, providing for the safety of a
building's inhabitants is one functional rule of design that even the
most theoretical architect cannot ignore. Obviously, it is not Gehry's
fault that people act in violent ways, but in light of the shooting and
the way the layout of the building complicated police efforts, perhaps
a new design for the science library should be chosen.
I was glad to read recent letters to PAW that cast shadows across the
selection (or was it a shotgun marriage?) of Frank Gehry as architect
for the new science library. That Gehry is an original and brilliant talent
is unquestionable, but whether he's the best architect for this job
is questionable. A good campus and Princeton is among the best
has many more background buildings than foreground builings. Gehry
is the poster child of the sculptural object building, which often bears
more allegiance to his porfolio than to the local context.
I wonder if another of his shiny, fin-de-siecle exuberances is what a
highly visible site on Washington Road needs (although better there than
on Cannon Green) and what a science library wants to be. But maybe he
will surprise us with a new, quieter signature, one that doesn't shout
louder than its neighbors for the architectural attention that a more
central and honorific structure deserves.
Doug Kelbaugh '67 *72
Dean of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning University
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Mr. Vance Torbert '42 is certainly correct in his recent
letter to PAW where he describes the proposed Frank Gehry design for
the new science library building as "another heap of distorted metallic
forms at one of its prime portals." Well said!
Paul Allen, of Microsoft fame, funded a Frank Gehrydesigned Experience
Music Project building here in Seattle, at the foot of the Space Needle.
The building is quite colorful (whereas the Bilbao building is monochromatic)
but on the interior, "visitors are totally confused by the plan's
lack of direction and chaotic circulation" to use Mr. Tolbert's own
words. In short, the interior makes no sense at all. In addition, at an
exhorbitant cost (each exterior panel is different from each other) the
building remains nearly unfinished on the inside - one sees raw surfaces
Mr. Gehry's buildings are stand-alone monuments best designed to be placed
alone, away from grand and glorious architecture from this, or a past
generation. The Princeton campus was invaded in my era by Minoru Yamasaki
and his Woodrow Wilson school temple; Gehry's creation will, no doubt
if he follows his Bilbao and Seattle precursors, make the Yamasaki building
look positively Gothic by comparison.
Recent communications from Princeton have once again raised my eyebrows
at both the apparent wealth and the visible generosity of some of my fellow
alumni. A $60-million gift for a new science library. A
$30-million gift (from one of my own classmates, no less!) toward
construction of a new residential college. Staggering amounts to someone
like me, whose donations are in the two-figure range rather than reaching
to six or seven figures. So I give time (despite the requirements of managing
the environmental restoration program at Sandia National Laboratories)
instead of money, as a volunteer high school girls soccer and basketball
New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the U.S., and its education
system ranks near the bottom by almost any standard used for measurement.
The school at which I coach is a two-year-old charter school created with
the express purpose of providing better educational opportunity within
the public school system. Already, its standardized test scores exceed
the state average by 20-40 percent.
How do the preceding paragraphs connect? Quite straightforwardly, actually.
The opportunity to participate in sports is part of a well-rounded education.
Several major high school sports require a gym. This school does not have
one; a permanent gym costs approximately $1 million. The community served
by the school measures monetary donations in (small) multiples of $10.
To them/us, $1 million is as far away as the moon. To a fortunate number
of my fellow alumni, such as those to whom I alluded in the first paragraph,
$1 million is a few percent of a gift (or, looked at another way, less
than the uncertainty a contractor would expect in constructing a $30-$60
What I am doing is suggesting that every once in a while, an altruist
among you might refrain from making the rich quite so much richer and
consider making a smaller gift of much greater impact. Or a number of
smaller gifts. Help prepare a wider variety of students for the opportunity
of finding out what it's like to attend Princeton. Give somebody a bus,
or a classroom, or some land. Or a gym.
I was very concerned when I read about the $60-million
gift of Peter R. Lewis 55 to Princeton for a new science library
to be designed by architect Frank Gehry and located just north of Fine
Hall. Not concerned with the gift, which is certainly wonderful, and the
library, which is needed. But I am very concerned about what the library
will look like and its relation to the other buildings on the campus.
The beauty and harmony of the campus was one of the many factors that
led me to choose Princeton for my college career. And even though Princeton
has expanded greatly over the years the campus has always beenwonderful
to me at my reunions and other visits since graduation (and later two
months naval training during, World War II).
Frank Gehry is indeed an internationally praised architect. He is also
a very controversial architect. I know he has the expertise to design
a building that will be both beautiful in most people's eyes and will
meet the utilitarian needs of a great library. But will he?
His acclaimed (by many) Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is now attracting
hordes of visitors to an otherwise unattractive industrial city. His model
for a Guggenheim downtown branch museum on the East River in Manhattan
is also an eye-catching, almost "free-form" building, and if
built will probably attract more visitors than the museum's exhibits will.
In my opinion a library like either of the above examples would lend a
jarring note to Princeton's campus. If the new library attracts crowds
like Bilbao, it could have an adverse effect on users of the library.
Since Gehry is designing the library I challenge him to provide something
of which most Princetonians can be proud. If the administration feels
that attracting sightseers is important, perhaps Lucy the Margate Elephant
building just south of Atlantic City might be for sale.
Below is a copy of a letter sent to President Tilghman
I have just read in the development office's "Princeton With One
Accord" publication about Mr. Peter Lewis 55's very generous
gift, which is supposed to be used to build a combination research and
This is certainly a desirable and innovative concept.
The article stated the building will be designed by architect Frank Gehry,
who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. There is no mention
of the design proposed for this new building for Princeton.
If you have not seen this building yourself, l strongly urge that you
personally travel to Bilbao and see the Guggenheim building there. You
are probably already familiar with the radical design of the Guggenheim
Museum in New York City.
Because it stands alone in a very large open area, physically separated
from other significant structures, the museum in Bilbao might impress
some people as trendy "artistic" novelty.
However anything resembling it would be an ugly, absolute disaster in
a traditional setting, such as the beautiful Princeton campus!
If Mr. Lewis's impressive gift is dependent on having the structure resemble
in any way the Bilbao or New York Guggenheim buildings, then Princeton
should thank him for his generosity and graciously decline accepting it.
Any new building erected today will be with Princeton for a long, long
Am enclosing a fall 1997 copy of the Guggenheim magazine, which features
an extensive illustrated article on the Bilbao Guggenheim. Please review
it carefully. The building is even more extreme, unusual, and unattractive
when actually seen!
One of the delights of PAW
is reading the letters from disgruntled alumni decrying something at Princeton
they don't like, usually because it's not the way it was in the good old
days. Normally I chuckle at these letters and move on, but your January
30 issue contains such a classic collection of old fogey letters that
I can't resist commenting.
First in line is a fine example
of an old favorite, the "women are ruining Princeton" genre, from one
Hugh M.F. Lewis 41. (Why
do so many of these people have two middle initials?) Mr. Lewis includes
the always-fun assertion that he doubts you'll dare to print his letter
even though lots of alums agree with him.
Unfortunately, the declining
number of PAW letters complaining about women suggests there may not be
many of this kind of old fogey left after all.
Next we have another familiar
complaint, this one about architecture, from James
F. Lotspeich 44. Mr. Lotspeich decries the decision to have
the new science library designed by Frank Gehry, who is considered the
greatest architect of our time by many critics and working architects.
The writer tells us he has seen Gehry buildings and can't find any redeeming
social or esthetic features in any of them. One suspects he feels the
same way about the Picasso's in the Art Museum.
The most virulent of the January
30 letters, and the only one that bothered me, is from
Robert 0. Woods 62 on the familiar theme of "people I disagree
with who therefore shouldn't be allowed to speak on campus." The object
of Mr. Wood's ire (he uses such words as "fool" "idiot" and "near treason")
is Danny Glover, who apparently gave a speech opposing America's use of
capital punishment (a view shared by every other western democracy and
a hefty percentage of Americans.) My concern about Mr. Woods's letter,
however, is not its substance or even its over-heated language. It is
that Mr. Woods is from a younger class than mine.
Please do not print any more
old fogey letters from classes younger than 1955. They make me fear that
I am getting very old.
As one of many architects whose
design doctrine has been, "form follows function," I was alarmed
to read in the December
19 PAW that Mr. Frank Gehry has been named architect for the new science
The city of Bilbao needed a
startling structure to attract tourists and put itself on the map. The
Guggenheim Museum achieved this goal remarkably well. Consequently, many
cities, including Dallas, are beseeching Mr. Gehry to create similar attractions.
Princeton has no need for such a symbol to enhance its public image.
Because Bilbaos Guggenheim
has received such universal acclaim, few of the silent minority who have
dared criticize the project have been heard. The interior space behind
those dramatic titanium shapes is a disaster. It is dominated by a jumbled
mass of ugly struts and spars and is useless as an area for exhibiting
art. Visitors are totally confused by the plans lack of direction
and chaotic circulation.
The combined force of major
funding and Mr. Gehry may be hard to resist ,but I hope the university
does not succumb to the enticement of yet another heap of distorted metallic
forms at one of its prime portals.
How could Princeton
choose Frank Gehry of all people to design and construct a new science
library? I have seen one after another of Gehry's so-called creations
erected here and there throughout the country and the world, and I can't
for the life of me see any socially or esthetically redeeming features
in any of them. Please, before it is too late, build something that has
at least some reasonable resemblance to the other buildings on or near
the campus. I know it's way beyond anyone's hope to see something in the
Gothic mold, but in the name of common sense and decency, please discard
the Gehry model.
As I perused the recent Guggenheim
exhibit of Mr. Gehry's work and beheld what miracles he had wrought for,
among other institutions, MIT, Bard College, and an L.A. area law school,
in addition to the more well-known non-education-related edifices, I thought
to myself "Why can't we have some of his wondrous architecture at Princeton,
instead of repeated dabbling with ho-hum Purina-buildings?" Mr. Gehry
is a true revolutionary in his field. In addition to being aesthetically
pleasing, different, and customized to the function of the structure,
his work symbolizes the innovation for which Princeton is clearly striving,
including advances in the financing of student education and in the educational
and personal diversity of the University's senior leadership. Yet again,
I am proud of Old Nassau. A loud locomotive to Mr. Rawson 66 and
the rest of the trustees for a job well done!
While I support
of a library, I regret the fact that Princeton has opted to select
a design that is immediately identifiable as being a "Gehry" rather than
a "Princeton" building. In recent years it seems that architects draw
monuments mainly to themselves and institutional clients stampede like
lemmings to their door. Some of Gehry's most recent buildings look as
if someone has turned over a bowl of titanium Fritos. These self-referential
structures unfortunately market the architect more than they serve the
client. While sculpture is interesting in its own right, a smaller version
as an exhibit in an architectural museum might be less expensive. Where
is Yale's Tom Wolfe (From Bauhaus to Our House) when we need him?