Deborah Berke Partners, an award-winning architecture practice known for designing inventive and enduring buildings and spaces that enable community engagement and advance institutional mission, has been selected for a new residential college project at Princeton University.
“Deborah Berke Partners is an outstanding and inspired choice to design Princeton’s next residential colleges,” Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said. “Expanding our undergraduate student body is an essential feature of our commitment to extend access to a transformative Princeton education, and this project represents a significant step toward that vital goal.”
While the Campus Plan identified a site to build one residential college to accommodate an increase of 125 students per class, the plan also eyed a site that could accommodate a second college to be used as swing space to enable renovation of the University’s existing housing stock, and to support a future student expansion. Deborah Berke Partners will work on designs for two possible residential colleges located south of Poe Field, east of Elm Drive, and near the existing Butler, Wilson and Whitman colleges.
The project will be led by firm partners Deborah Berke, who also is dean of the Yale School of Architecture, and Maitland Jones, who received his undergraduate degree from Princeton in 1987.
“As a respected scholar and dean of the Yale School of Architecture, Deborah brings to this assignment a deep and thoughtful appreciation for our academic and residential mission,” Eisgruber said. “She and her partners demonstrated a superb ability to conceive dynamic, inviting social spaces that foster interactive community.”
For the residential college project, University Architect Ron McCoy said Princeton was looking for “an architect who has a deep understanding and appreciation of the University’s goal to create an engaged and inviting community,” as well as a firm with the “insight and sensitivity to create buildings and spaces that are both functional and inspiring.”
Deborah Berke Partners has more than 30 years of experience, including a number of projects for higher education and cultural institutions. The New York-based practice recently received the National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and also was named to Architectural Digest’s list of 100 most influential architects and designers. Berke has been recognized for her significant contributions to the advancement of women in the field of architecture.
“Deborah Berke Partners are extraordinarily talented architects, with experience in collaborating with mission-driven institutions and the ability to create architectural settings that are imbued with a profound sense of belonging,” McCoy said.
The firm has completed projects for the Yale School of Art and the Rockefeller Arts Center at SUNY Fredonia. It is currently working on several large-scale commercial and university projects, including a new residential hall at Dickinson College and a building redesign for Harvard Law School.
Berke said her team strives to create architecture that is true to place, which involves getting to know the community’s culture and developing consensus among diverse stakeholders.
"Before we design anything, we take time to learn about our clients and their needs and aspirations,” Berke said. “This process of discovery builds trust and helps us arrive at a design that is meaningful and lasting for the community it serves."
Jones, who was a Princeton undergraduate during the full implementation of the residential college system, said he is excited by the project’s implications for the undergraduate experience and what that means for the University as a whole.
“The University has done a lot of thinking and reflection on what it wants to be in the 21st century: diverse, inclusive, a place where all students feel a sense of belonging,” Jones said. “We share these values, and are excited to give them architectural expression.”
He said the firm is known for inclusive and sustainable practices, as well as designs that foreground how buildings will be used.
“Our goal here is to design residential colleges that the students can occupy and make their own,” Jones said. “This requires a balance of spaces that are specific and have a distinctive character with those that are flexible and adaptable. We want to create spaces and experiences at the colleges that bring something new to the larger campus."
While Princeton’s Campus Plan suggested sites for the residential colleges, it did not determine what the buildings may look like. The plan suggested the first college include buildings of varying heights with at least 500 beds, social spaces, a dining hall, and a kitchen/servery that could also support a second college.
“It is too early to predict any specific design features, but we are excited about the opportunities to create spaces with a range of character,” McCoy said. “There will be opportunities for spaces that are vibrant, transparent, open and connected. Likewise, there will be opportunities to create spaces of intimacy and reflection that are warm and comfortable.”
Jones said his firm will take inspiration from the environment of the project site: its sloping topography, excellent exposure to light and woodsy natural condition. He said the goal is to create buildings that are knitted into the landscape with layered relationships between indoors and outdoors with courtyards, passageways and thresholds.
“Sensitivity to the site is an important part of our sustainable design approach, which will emphasize passive strategies and a productive, low-maintenance landscape,” Jones said.
Development of the first residential college would require the relocation of the Class of 1895 Softball Field and the Lenz Tennis Center. The Campus Plan proposes that new and improved facilities for softball and tennis be included on lands south of Lake Carnegie, which already include a rugby field and cross-country course. Potential development of the second college would necessitate relocation of the Roberts Soccer Stadium and Myslik Field to the site of the current adjacent soccer practice field. This would require construction of a new soccer practice field, which could be located east of Washington Road or at other locations.
The University is now engaged in capital planning and fundraising for the project, which will determine next steps and the timing for constructing the residential college facilities. Construction will not commence until fundraising targets have been met.