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Letters from alumni about the demolition of Butler College

June 15, 2004

I fail to understand the remark of Jacob Goldberg '88 that the buildings of Butler Quad "are among the very best collegiate buildings built between 1940 and 1980 in the U.S." I was assigned a room in the Class of 1942 Hall for Reunions 2000. The ceiling light was not centered but placed in a corner, while the shower stalls down the hall had no dish or ledge for soap and shampoo. The amenities seemed lacking indeed. Good riddance, I say.

Z. Taylor VInson '55
Alexandria, Va.

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June 8, 2004

I was shocked and disappointed to learn about the proposed destruction of the New New Quad. While I can't comment on the targeted buildings from an architect's perspective, my own attachment comes from Lourie-Love being my home my senior year in a brand new building where everything worked. OK, it lacked the neo-gothic charm of the upper campus, but so did Wilson.

As for the "not especially loved" factor, what's love? Each of the present additions to the Princeton campus was carefully studied and considered before it appeared, and each has come to represent a particular time in the history of the university and, more important in my view, a particular part of the experience of each undergraduate. Personally I would not have saved Witherspoon, Dod, or Brown for their good looks and quaint amenities, but I respect the parts they have played in the lives of the university and the students who have gone there.

Surely economics cannot drive decisions like that threatening Butler — "it's as cheap to rebuild as renovate" — and how colossal a blunder can it be to have designed a quad that interferes with the view from Wilson of a playing field?

Norman R. Williams '65
Washington, D.C.  

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April 26, 2004

As a practicing architect, loyal alum and former Butler resident, I believe the University's decision to demolish the quadrangle is wrong and shortsighted.

I have always thought that the buildings represented a sophisticated, responsive modernism, and as I made my way through graduate school and into professional life my appreciation of the buildings only deepened. It is not hard to walk through the quadrangle and see how the buildings reinterpreted the Neo-Gothic in modern materials, and how the forms of the buildings were designed to sit at edge of the playing fields.

The interiors may not be every student's dream, but they are crisply detailed, well-built modern spaces. It is probably difficult for current administrators to grasp the value and grace of these buildings, given the transformation of Butler's neighborhood by insensitively designed (and poorly situated) laboratory buildings, but I wish they would make the attempt.

Just compare these dormitories and their site plan with those of Wilson College, which is altogether more straightforward, and one can understand how much effort and talent went into a complex and careful design.

The courtyard of Butler may not be a conventional grassy lawn, but I would rank it among the finest Modernist outdoor spaces. The architecture of Butler's quadrangle may not have been in fashion for a long time (especially among architecture students), but these buildings are among the very best collegiate buildings built between 1940 and 1980 in the U.S. I hope the University will carefully photograph and document the quad before it is demolished.

Jacob Goldberg '88
Harrison, N.Y.

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April 1, 2004

This is a copy of a letter I sent to the Prince: Beware repeating the past. Wilson College's original buildings were considered so banal that the architecture grad students picketed the opening ceremonies and convinced the university to hand Phase II (Butler) over to a "name-brand" architect, Hugh Stubbins. The goal, then as now, was to blend the old Gothic with the new. Stubbins succeeded in the architectural press but failed with the students. Pei Cobb must not make the same mistake.

Dave Thom '96
New York, N.Y.

I love going over Butler/Wilson history. I still have a paper somewhere on the server: http://etc.princeton.edu/CampusWWW/Studentdocs/princeton.html

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March 8, 2004

Imagine a day, say, 40 years from now, when the new science library designed to great pomp by the Great One is considered "not especially beloved." Or maybe the Poe Field dorms are deemed not to create "Princeton-like courtyards or Princeton-like vistas." Shocking as this prospect might seem, it is possible. I'm certain Hugh Stubbins and his client, Princeton University, didn't imagine the day when the New New Quad, would be described in these terms, and portions of it slated for demolition.

I'm concerned that the University increasingly views its building stock as a furniture collection, which when it is considered "ugly" or "out of style" (or a threat to continued donations by well-heeled alumni) simply gets replaced. Is the goal to expunge from the campus two or three decades (1945-79, say) worth of building and replace these with a growing Neo-Neo-Gothic collection, replete with cable TV, Internet connection, and private bath for each resident?

I'd like to recall Holland of the 16th century, and the concept of an embarrassment of riches. Is this what institutions with too much money do with it? We would do well to remember those periods of the University's history when finances were tighter and realize that it doesn't last forever.

My point is simply that when these buildings were designed, there must have been something like consensus that they embodied "Princeton-like" qualities, whatever that might mean. They were the products of substantial expenditures of not only capital, but also the energy by everyone involved, from the University's project manager, to the architect, to the masons (not to mention the energy used to manufacture and transport the building components).

Despite protestations to the contrary, these buildings do have value: They are still standing, have not fallen into disrepair, provide adequate shelter ("What? Share a room?"), and support a rather robust social life. Or at least they did in the late 1980s when I lived in Wilson College and Spelman Hall.

Princeton, I think, ought to be confident enough to accept these buildings, knowing that someday they will need to be replaced for the right reasons.

Jim Moses '88
Arlington, Mass.

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February 9, 2004

It was with a sense of dismay and disbelief that I read of the University's plans to demolish most of Butler College. Forty years after the destruction of the old Penn Station, have we really learned nothing? What's next? A sensible four-year college system? Alternatives to eating clubs? More intellectual students?

No one arrived at Princeton expecting "the Butt." Yet the radical dissonance between the gothic upper campus and our sordid hidden domain prepared us for the false pretenses of the world. In the claustrophobic cubbies of Lourie-Love, 1922, and 1940-2 the character of a generation was formed. I can only hope that the University will preserve at least one feature of the "old" Butler for future Princetonians. I have in mind, of course, the waffle ceilings.

John Buntin '94
Washington, D.C.

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February 5, 2004

Several years ago, you kindly published my proposal for the demolition of all campus structures built after World War II, and their replacement with Collegiate Gothic architecture. Soon thereafter, the University unveiled plans for the soaring gothic arches of Whitman College. In your latest issue, the University announced the imminent demolition of the concrete-and-brown-brick-bunkers comprising the New New Quad.

Well. I hardly expected such quick and decisive action. Thank you.

I trust that it would not be ungrateful to point out the remaining issues of Wilson College and Spelman Hall. Perhaps when the bulldozers are finished with the New New Quad?

Stewart Harris ‘83
Grundy, Va.

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January 29, 2004

“I guess I’ll get over it,” I said to myself, trying to absorb the full shock and awe of this most disconcerting news — plans for the University-sanctioned demolition of Butler College.

I grew to love those unlikely, illogical structures in their full ugliness, especially how those “waffles” in the ceiling amplified the already over-loud “click-click-slam” of each curiously heavy dorm room knob and door. A lot of good has happened there — how many of us have indeed found both Lourie and Love within these walls?

If the decision to destroy these halls is based primarily on their not being “especially beloved on campus” then I would expect that the even doubly loathed Picasso “Head of a Woman” outside Marquand library will be the next to go. (That is still there, isn’t it?)

Jeremy Spiegel ’92
Portland, Maine

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