Asymmetric Porticos

Ancient and modern buildings generally have symmetrically disposed, decorative, supporting columns at their entrances, as may be seen at Whig Hall and the School of Engineering (below). These can be pleasing, functional, and unobtrusive.

However, the architect of Bowen Hall (below right, 1992) chose to employ a single, offset column (not to mention a single, offset bannister) at the main entrance instead. What could be the reason for this anomaly? Do architects really believe that this "new" feature adds "tension" to the design? When introduced perhaps 150 years ago, that might have been the case, but since the advent of steel frame construction, this motif has been used so many times that it ceased to be anything but trite. No modern observer can possibly think that such porticos are in any way "risky". They are just ugly, and hint of inappropriate cost cutting (common enough at Princeton!).

Moreover, the Bowen Hall asymmetric portico was not even a novelty on the Princeton campus. The Caldwell Field House (1963) introduced this feature with uncharacteristic subtlety: its REAR entrance is "supported" by a single steel column (below left). That this shaft is not a gutter or an exposed steam duct is evident from the main entrance (below bottom), where similar columns are used in a more traditional manner.

The asymmetric portico is now a staple of the Princeton campus. Not satisfied with only one, the architect of McDonnell Hall (below left) placed two of them side by side, one of steel and one of concrete. The Wallace Social Sciences Building (below right), which embodies nearly all that is bad in modern architecture, breaks the symmetry by having one rectangular and one cylindrical column, a pattern that is continued inside the building.

Could matters be worse? Yes. The architect of Princeton's Paul Robeson Center (below, under contruction) has confounded any notion of "form follows function" by placing a single, central supporting column in front of its main entrance. We hope that no large objects will have to be carried through these doors! Who was the moron that approved this design?