University selects Beyer Blinder Belle to develop campus plan

Princeton University has chosen the award-winning firm of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP to lead the development of a long-term plan for its campus.

Working with a team of seven other specialized firms, BBB will take a fresh look at the 400-acre campus and outline how it might grow in the future. The project is particularly challenging since Princeton is in the midst of an ambitious building program.

"Under the leadership of President [Shirley M.] Tilghman, we have engaged in an intensive series of internal discussions over the past two years with senior administrators, faculty, architects and other key stakeholders through which we have developed a set of overarching principles for campus planning and development," said Mark Burstein, executive vice president at Princeton. "Now we will work with BBB to develop a plan for applying these principles to specific decisions we will need to make not only about where to locate new facilities but also about parking, transportation, pedestrian access and circulation, infrastructure support, signage, landscaping and other issues."

A firm of 160 professionals with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Beijing, China, BBB is well known for urban planning and creative integration of new design within the historic fabric of buildings, cities and landscapes. Its projects have included a vision plan for Washington, D.C., and downtown revitalization plans in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The firm also has prepared long-term campus plans for several other institutions, including the State University of New York-Stony Brook, Columbia University and the eight-campus Indiana University system. Other notable projects for which the firm has been responsible include the revitalization of historic sites such as Grand Central Terminal and the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York (in association with Renzo Piano Building Workshop). In 1995, BBB received the Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects, the profession's highest honor.

"The culture of our firm is rooted in a sensitivity to the value of important public places, cultural and historic settings, and landmarks, while also planning and designing vibrant and exciting new places," said Neil Kittredge, associate partner at BBB, who will be the primary liaison between the firm and the University. "So Princeton's long-term campus plan is an ideal project for us. While preserving the qualities that make the historic campus so beloved, we must also ensure that the campus can grow and have a thriving ongoing life, by integrating the new with the old in a coherent whole."

BBB has assembled a team of specialists with whom it will work on various aspects of the plan. The other firms are:

  • Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, landscape architects with offices in New York and Cambridge, Mass.
  • Architecture Research Office, an architectural design practice based in New York and founded by two alumni of Princeton's School of Architecture.
  • Lynden B. Miller Public Garden Design, a horticulture and garden design firm based in New York.
  • Gorove/Slade Associates, specialists in traffic and transportation based in Washington, D.C.
  • Chance Management Advisors, a parking and access management firm in Philadelphia.
  • Two Twelve Associates, a New York City-based graphic design firm specializing in wayfinding and signage.
  • Judith Nitsch Engineering, a civil engineering firm in Boston with particular expertise in the field of sustainability.

"BBB put together a very impressive team as part of its proposal," said Michael McKay, Princeton's vice president for facilities. "They have worked together often and have good relationships. That's important because the team here is really key to this process."

"This project requires a firm that will support a collaborative approach and coordinate lots of inputs from different sources," added Jon Hlafter, University architect. "We wanted to have a team that would hit the ground running."

The process of developing the campus plan is expected to take two years. According to Burstein, it will offer members of the University and local communities many opportunities for engagement, including meetings, surveys and other mechanisms.

Kittredge has some personal interest in the community aspect of the project. He was born in Princeton, grew up in South Brunswick and worked as a young architect at a Princeton firm. "My experience at Princeton is from the perspective of a resident of the town," he said. "I hope that this background will help with the engagement and understanding of town-gown issues with the many constituencies necessary for the success of the campus planning effort."

Guiding principles and campus neighborhoods

The planning process is taking place during a 10-year building boom on Princeton's campus. Some 1.6 million square feet of space will have been added to the physical plant through new facilities by 2006, yielding a total physical plant of more than 9.5 million square feet. University officials estimate that Princeton will require an additional 1 million square feet of space between 2007 and 2017, the period to be covered by the plan.

During the earlier internal discussions on campus planning, Princeton officials decided that, for the foreseeable future, the further expansion would take place on the main campus, rather than on land the University owns across Lake Carnegie in West Windsor.

"The decision to promote appropriate density on Princeton's core campus in lieu of continued dispersion heightened the urgency of identifying the unique qualities of the main campus and of developing a strategy to preserve and enhance them," Burstein said.

The internal planning process resulted in five guiding principles for future work:

  • maintain a pedestrian-oriented campus.
  • preserve the park-like character of the campus.
  • maintain campus "neighborhoods" while promoting a sense of community.
  • develop in an environmentally responsible manner.
  • sustain strong community relations.

Another major factor that will affect the planning process is the expansion of Princeton's undergraduate student body by 500 students. The gradual growth has already started with a slight increase in the size of this year's freshman class. Enrollment is expected to reach 5,200 students in the fall of 2012. To house those students, the University is constructing Whitman College, its sixth residential complex. The 255,000-square-foot collegiate gothic structure designed by Demetri Porphyrios is expected to be ready for occupancy in fall 2007.

Several "neighborhood design" projects also are under way. In May, the University announced the selection of Hopkins Architects of London for its new chemistry building and surrounding natural sciences neighborhood. The other projects the University has identified to address specific needs for growth and enhance the development of targeted campus neighborhoods are:

  • Alexander Street/University Place, where it is exploring options for developing academic space focused on the arts as well as residential, office and retail facilities.
  • "E-3," a zoning district in the borough of Princeton on the northeast corner of the main campus that comprises the University's facilities for the applied sciences, social sciences and some natural sciences. The University is examining options for constructing new engineering facilities.
  • Housing, an area where University officials want to explore not only better meeting the needs of its undergraduate and graduate students -- most of whom live on campus -- but also faculty and staff.

BBB and its team will be responsible for working with the architects selected for the neighborhood projects to make sure that their work is integrated with the campus plan. On the chemistry building and its neighborhood, for example, the team will be developing a parking plan that would support University needs while minimizing impact on the surrounding community and finding ways to improve the environmentally sensitive wooded stream valley in concert with the construction project.

"The University has adopted an approach of planning complete neighborhoods, rather than individual buildings, in order to avoid ending up with a series of projects that are disconnected," Kittredge said. "This approach will result in a set of unique places that work together to form the campus, with each neighborhood having its own character and identity. The planning process will help define what it means to be a neighborhood, how buildings, open spaces, circulation and other elements are integrated within each area, and how the various neighborhoods fit together and relate to the historic campus core."

The BBB team will meet monthly with the University's campus planning steering committee, which is led by President Tilghman. "In the early stages, it will be the steering committee providing overall guidance to the campus planning team," said Hlafter, who will provide day-to-day supervision along with a new associate University architect. "In the later stages, it will be the steering committee reacting to recommendations from the campus planning team."

Developing a campus plan at the same time as the University is undergoing so much change presents a particular set of challenges for BBB. But Kittredge finds the prospect stimulating. "We hope to create a flexible framework that can be more dynamic than a traditional master plan," he said. "With a static plan, you can become very abstract and lose sight of the fact that needs change over time. Here, we will have the opportunity to see right away how the bigger vision is working. That's an exciting prospect."