January 30, 2002: President's Page

Campus Neighborhoods

From time to time I intend to turn over the “President’s page” to a colleague. I have asked Jon Hlafter ‘61, the Director of Physical Planning, to describe some of the context and considerations that are shaping our plans for the sixth residential college. — Shirley M. Tilghman

Pictured: Jon Hlafter ’61, director, physical planning

As the campus continues to grow and become increasingly complex, we are adopting a more deliberate planning strategy to reinforce what is familiar and make more understandable what is not. This strategy includes a conscious effort to accommodate in close proximity departments that belong to the same academic division, resulting in the development of four academic neighborhoods: (1) for engineering, on the eastern side of the campus with the Engineering Quadrangle, the Materials Institute and the Friend Center; (2) for the social sciences, along Washington Road from Nassau Street to Prospect Avenue, including Wallace and Fisher-Bendheim Halls; (3) for the natural sciences, south of Prospect on both sides of Washington Road; and (4) for the humanities, around Firestone Library. Similar precincts have long existed for campus life facilities. Prospect Avenue has for many years provided the locus for the eating clubs, the varsity athletics complex has expanded to command the southeastern edge of the campus, and residential facilities dominate the southwestern half of the campus.

A more deliberate planning process must take into account the fact that the different emerging precincts of campus are in part recognizable by their architectural styles, reflecting trends that were significant at the time of their development. Because Princeton from its inception was open to new and significant architectural styles, the campus offers examples of virtually every style in the history of American architecture. Here one can experience it all. The earliest building sites, around Nassau Hall, exhibit 18th Century Georgian and later neoclassical influences—Stanhope Hall, West College, Whig and Clio Halls. The newer parts of campus, more to the east and south, have the most numerous examples of modern architectural styles, recently exemplified by the Friend Center, Princeton Stadium, and the Genomics building now under construction. The new science library being designed by Frank Gehry will certainly fall into this category.

Beginning with the construction of Blair Hall and East Pyne about 100 years ago, dormitories and academic facilities began to show the influence of Collegiate Gothic, a principal style for higher education in America in the early 20th century. These facilities appear most notably in a layer of campus development that surrounds the oldest section, extending from Holder and Hamilton Halls at the corner of Nassau Street and University Place, to the dormitories in the vicinity of Dillon, to the McCosh/Dickinson/Chapel courtyard along Washington Road. The architects who designed these buildings adapted architectural styles associated with Oxford and Cambridge to local conditions.

For example, many of them are not four-sided quadrangles as one would find in England but are influenced by the topography of the land—Blair and Little Halls snake their way along a natural ridge line, providing much more independent living arrangements than the more traditional cloistered quadrangles of New Haven.

The proposed sixth residential college, which will include dormitory, dining, social and academic spaces, will be our first residential college to be built “from scratch,” and the first to integrate upper- and under-class students in large numbers. Its location, south of Dillon Gymnasium, flanked by Collegiate Gothic Patton on the east and modern Spelman Halls on the west, suggested two different reference points for style. After considering the alternatives, the Trustees decided to construct a college facility that will speak the same language as Patton, Pyne, and Dillon Gymnasium, thus reinforcing the Collegiate Gothic neighborhood.

This decision poses some significant challenges. Much of Blair or Little Hall’s appeal is in their stone masonry walls and picturesque rooflines, accented by dormers and chimneys, which are decorated with special molded bricks or limestone carvings. By their unevenness in size and variations in color, the slate shingles themselves add interest. Producing the same esthetic appearance today will require a special commitment, given the substantial costs associated with these features. Moreover, current practices and codes discourage the use of fireplaces, and the space they take up is very much needed to accommodate the array of “stuff” that students now consider essential—like computers, stereo systems, televisions, bicycles, and athletic equipment. Hiring crews large enough and artisans accomplished enough to craft a complex of nearly a quarter million gross square feet will not be easy.

In creating the new college, we aim to preserve the language and craft of Princeton’s Collegiate Gothic heritage while taking advantage of new technologies that will meet the needs of current and future students, in discreet combinations of old and new. We aim also to ensure that in the architectural neighborhoods of Princeton, at different times and in different ways and places, we can experience it all.

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