Restoration of Nassau Hall’s roof and cupola is underway

The roof and cupola atop Princeton’s iconic Nassau Hall are undergoing a renovation to improve the structure while maintaining its historic character. 

As students and faculty return to campus this fall, they may wonder what is happening outside Princeton University’s iconic Nassau Hall.

Since mid-June, scaffolding and fencing have surrounded the building to support a roof and cupola restoration project. The damaging effects of aging and weather required the University to restore the structure while maintaining its historic character. The project includes replacing the slate roof, restoring the cupola on top of Nassau Hall, refurbishing the cupola’s clocks and enhancing safety systems. Work is expected to continue through March 2019, though it may finish ahead of schedule depending on conditions.

The Class of 1879 bronze tigers flanking the front steps have been boxed for protection, though visitors may still find other decorative tigers around campus.

Contrary to outside appearances, the inside of Nassau Hall remains the same. Entrances are open and staff members continue to work inside the building.

Nassau Hall, the first site most people encounter when they arrive on campus and walk through FitzRandolph Gate, is a University and national landmark. The building opened on Nov. 28, 1756, and was involved in several events related to the founding of the United States. Originally intended to house all college functions — classrooms, dorms, offices, library, chapel and kitchen — Nassau Hall today is an administrative building.

Alexis Mustchler looking at restoration work on Nassau Hall cupola

Alexis Mutschler, assistant director of special projects in Facilities, examines the ongoing restoration of the cupola on top of Princeton University's Nassau Hall. 

“It’s been 60 years since the roof or the cupola have been touched” for significant repairs, said Alexis Mutschler, assistant director of special projects in Facilities.

When restoration work is completed, the entire slate roof and copper gutters will be replaced and snow guards added. The cupola will be repainted, including the cupola’s four clocks.

Mutschler said the goal is to improve the architectural features in a way that maintains their historical look.

“If we do our job right, the cupola will look exactly the same, only better,” she said. “The biggest difference is it will take about 20 years for the bright copper to turn the beautiful patina green that we have grown so accustomed to.”

University Facilities oversees the roof and cupola project. Work is being completed by construction managers Massimino Building Corp. of Newtown, Pennsylvania; roofers Bregenzer Brothers of Hopewell, New Jersey; and other contractors and local craftspeople. The project’s preservation architect is Mills + Schnoerning Architects of Princeton, the structural engineer is Joseph B. Callaghan Inc. of Philadelphia, and Applied Engineering and Technology of Skillman, New Jersey, provided additional engineering work.