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Letters from alumni about Architect Frank Gehry and the new library at PU

December 29, 2003

I find Frank Gehry's design for the new science library ugly, and jarring. It looks like the remnants of a metal packing container from which the contents had to be forcibly extracted.

Why has there not been an outcry from other alumni, concerning this potential blight on our beautiful, and historic campus? Are we afraid of losing Peter Lewis's millions?

Two hundred years from now, no one will remember Peter Lewis, or his money, but if the Gehry building goes up, no one will ever forget the deep damage to our campus caused by this aesthetic anomaly.

Is there anything that can be done to avert this veritable knife-wound to the beauty of the landscape of Princeton University?

Patricia R.F. Danielson *76
Lambertville, N.J.

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May 10, 2003

While I was never particularly thrilled about the proposed addition of a Frank Gehry "collectible" to Princeton's architectural scene, the recent shoot-out at Peter B. Lewis'sGehry building at Case Western University raises new causes for concern.

Because of Gehry's trademark dipping and curving hallways, police were unable to return any clear shots against the suspect's barrage of firepower, resulting in a seven-hour stand-off that left one student dead and two injured. God forbid that such a horrible scenario ever play out at Princeton, but in today's world, providing for the safety of a building's inhabitants is one functional rule of design that even the most theoretical architect cannot ignore. Obviously, it is not Gehry's fault that people act in violent ways, but in light of the shooting and the way the layout of the building complicated police efforts, perhaps a new design for the science library should be chosen.

Liz Hallock '02
New York, N.Y.

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May 23, 2002

I was glad to read recent letters to PAW that cast shadows across the selection (or was it a shotgun marriage?) of Frank Gehry as architect for the new science library. That Gehry is an original and brilliant talent is unquestionable, but whether he's the best architect for this job is questionable. A good campus — and Princeton is among the best — has many more background buildings than foreground builings. Gehry is the poster child of the sculptural object building, which often bears more allegiance to his porfolio than to the local context.

I wonder if another of his shiny, fin-de-siecle exuberances is what a highly visible site on Washington Road needs (although better there than on Cannon Green) and what a science library wants to be. But maybe he will surprise us with a new, quieter signature, one that doesn't shout louder than its neighbors for the architectural attention that a more central and honorific structure deserves.

Doug Kelbaugh '67 *72
Dean of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

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April 25, 2002

Mr. Vance Torbert '42 is certainly correct in his recent letter to PAW where he describes the proposed Frank Gehry design for the new science library building as "another heap of distorted metallic forms at one of its prime portals." Well said!

Paul Allen, of Microsoft fame, funded a Frank Gehry–designed Experience Music Project building here in Seattle, at the foot of the Space Needle. The building is quite colorful (whereas the Bilbao building is monochromatic) but on the interior, "visitors are totally confused by the plan's lack of direction and chaotic circulation" to use Mr. Tolbert's own words. In short, the interior makes no sense at all. In addition, at an exhorbitant cost (each exterior panel is different from each other) the building remains nearly unfinished on the inside - one sees raw surfaces everywhere.

Mr. Gehry's buildings are stand-alone monuments best designed to be placed alone, away from grand and glorious architecture from this, or a past generation. The Princeton campus was invaded in my era by Minoru Yamasaki and his Woodrow Wilson school temple; Gehry's creation will, no doubt if he follows his Bilbao and Seattle precursors, make the Yamasaki building look positively Gothic by comparison.

Paul Birkeland '66
Seattle, Wash.

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March 11, 2002

Recent communications from Princeton have once again raised my eyebrows at both the apparent wealth and the visible generosity of some of my fellow alumni. A $60-million gift for a new science library. A $30-million gift (from one of my own classmates, no less!) toward construction of a new residential college. Staggering amounts to someone like me, whose donations are in the two-figure range rather than reaching to six or seven figures. So I give time (despite the requirements of managing the environmental restoration program at Sandia National Laboratories) instead of money, as a volunteer high school girls soccer and basketball coach.

New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the U.S., and its education system ranks near the bottom by almost any standard used for measurement. The school at which I coach is a two-year-old charter school created with the express purpose of providing better educational opportunity within the public school system. Already, its standardized test scores exceed the state average by 20-40 percent.

How do the preceding paragraphs connect? Quite straightforwardly, actually. The opportunity to participate in sports is part of a well-rounded education. Several major high school sports require a gym. This school does not have one; a permanent gym costs approximately $1 million. The community served by the school measures monetary donations in (small) multiples of $10. To them/us, $1 million is as far away as the moon. To a fortunate number of my fellow alumni, such as those to whom I alluded in the first paragraph, $1 million is a few percent of a gift (or, looked at another way, less than the uncertainty a contractor would expect in constructing a $30-$60 million building).

What I am doing is suggesting that every once in a while, an altruist among you might refrain from making the rich quite so much richer and consider making a smaller gift of much greater impact. Or a number of smaller gifts. Help prepare a wider variety of students for the opportunity of finding out what it's like to attend Princeton. Give somebody a bus, or a classroom, or some land. Or a gym.

Fran Nimick ’77
Edgewood, New Mex.

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March 9, 2002

I was very concerned when I read about the $60-million gift of Peter R. Lewis ’55 to Princeton for a new science library to be designed by architect Frank Gehry and located just north of Fine Hall. Not concerned with the gift, which is certainly wonderful, and the library, which is needed. But I am very concerned about what the library will look like and its relation to the other buildings on the campus. The beauty and harmony of the campus was one of the many factors that led me to choose Princeton for my college career. And even though Princeton has expanded greatly over the years the campus has always beenwonderful to me at my reunions and other visits since graduation (and later two months’ naval training during, World War II).

Frank Gehry is indeed an internationally praised architect. He is also a very controversial architect. I know he has the expertise to design a building that will be both beautiful in most people's eyes and will meet the utilitarian needs of a great library. But will he?

His acclaimed (by many) Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is now attracting hordes of visitors to an otherwise unattractive industrial city. His model for a Guggenheim downtown branch museum on the East River in Manhattan is also an eye-catching, almost "free-form" building, and if built will probably attract more visitors than the museum's exhibits will. In my opinion a library like either of the above examples would lend a jarring note to Princeton's campus. If the new library attracts crowds like Bilbao, it could have an adverse effect on users of the library.

Since Gehry is designing the library I challenge him to provide something of which most Princetonians can be proud. If the administration feels that attracting sightseers is important, perhaps Lucy the Margate Elephant building just south of Atlantic City might be for sale.

Clifford Bradley O’Hara ’39
Greenwich, Conn.

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February 19, 2002

Below is a copy of a letter sent to President Tilghman

I have just read in the development office's "Princeton With One Accord" publication about Mr. Peter Lewis ’55's very generous gift, which is supposed to be used to build a combination research and teaching library.
This is certainly a desirable and innovative concept.

The article stated the building will be designed by architect Frank Gehry, who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. There is no mention of the design proposed for this new building for Princeton.

If you have not seen this building yourself, l strongly urge that you personally travel to Bilbao and see the Guggenheim building there. You are probably already familiar with the radical design of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Because it stands alone in a very large open area, physically separated from other significant structures, the museum in Bilbao might impress some people as trendy "artistic" novelty.

However anything resembling it would be an ugly, absolute disaster in a traditional setting, such as the beautiful Princeton campus!

If Mr. Lewis's impressive gift is dependent on having the structure resemble in any way the Bilbao or New York Guggenheim buildings, then Princeton should thank him for his generosity and graciously decline accepting it. Any new building erected today will be with Princeton for a long, long time!

Am enclosing a fall 1997 copy of the Guggenheim magazine, which features an extensive illustrated article on the Bilbao Guggenheim. Please review it carefully. The building is even more extreme, unusual, and unattractive when actually seen!

Francis H. Ludington, Jr. ’45
Pelham Manor, N.Y.

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February 6, 2002

One of the delights of PAW is reading the letters from disgruntled alumni decrying something at Princeton they don't like, usually because it's not the way it was in the good old days. Normally I chuckle at these letters and move on, but your January 30 issue contains such a classic collection of old fogey letters that I can't resist commenting.

First in line is a fine example of an old favorite, the "women are ruining Princeton" genre, from one Hugh M.F. Lewis ’41. (Why do so many of these people have two middle initials?) Mr. Lewis includes the always-fun assertion that he doubts you'll dare to print his letter even though lots of alums agree with him.

Unfortunately, the declining number of PAW letters complaining about women suggests there may not be many of this kind of old fogey left after all.

Next we have another familiar complaint, this one about architecture, from James F. Lotspeich ’44. Mr. Lotspeich decries the decision to have the new science library designed by Frank Gehry, who is considered the greatest architect of our time by many critics and working architects. The writer tells us he has seen Gehry buildings and can't find any redeeming social or esthetic features in any of them. One suspects he feels the same way about the Picasso's in the Art Museum.

The most virulent of the January 30 letters, and the only one that bothered me, is from Robert 0. Woods ’62 on the familiar theme of "people I disagree with who therefore shouldn't be allowed to speak on campus." The object of Mr. Wood's ire (he uses such words as "fool" "idiot" and "near treason") is Danny Glover, who apparently gave a speech opposing America's use of capital punishment (a view shared by every other western democracy and a hefty percentage of Americans.) My concern about Mr. Woods's letter, however, is not its substance or even its over-heated language. It is that Mr. Woods is from a younger class than mine.

Please do not print any more old fogey letters from classes younger than 1955. They make me fear that I am getting very old.

John C. Tucker ’55
Lanexa, Va.

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December 29, 2001

As one of many architects whose design doctrine has been, "form follows function," I was alarmed to read in the December 19 PAW that Mr. Frank Gehry has been named architect for the new science library building.

The city of Bilbao needed a startling structure to attract tourists and put itself on the map. The Guggenheim Museum achieved this goal remarkably well. Consequently, many cities, including Dallas, are beseeching Mr. Gehry to create similar attractions. Princeton has no need for such a symbol to enhance its public image.

Because Bilbao’s Guggenheim has received such universal acclaim, few of the silent minority who have dared criticize the project have been heard. The interior space behind those dramatic titanium shapes is a disaster. It is dominated by a jumbled mass of ugly struts and spars and is useless as an area for exhibiting art. Visitors are totally confused by the plan’s lack of direction and chaotic circulation.

The combined force of major funding and Mr. Gehry may be hard to resist ,but I hope the university does not succumb to the enticement of yet another heap of distorted metallic forms at one of its prime portals.

Vance W. Torbert ’42
Dallas, Tex.

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December 21, 2001

How could Princeton choose Frank Gehry of all people to design and construct a new science library? I have seen one after another of Gehry's so-called creations erected here and there throughout the country and the world, and I can't for the life of me see any socially or esthetically redeeming features in any of them. Please, before it is too late, build something that has at least some reasonable resemblance to the other buildings on or near the campus. I know it's way beyond anyone's hope to see something in the Gothic mold, but in the name of common sense and decency, please discard the Gehry model.

James F. Lotspeich ’44
Malibu, Calif.

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December 18, 2001

When I saw in the December 19 issue that Frank Gehry was to design the new science library, I was absolutely thrilled!

As I perused the recent Guggenheim exhibit of Mr. Gehry's work and beheld what miracles he had wrought for, among other institutions, MIT, Bard College, and an L.A. area law school, in addition to the more well-known non-education-related edifices, I thought to myself "Why can't we have some of his wondrous architecture at Princeton, instead of repeated dabbling with ho-hum Purina-buildings?" Mr. Gehry is a true revolutionary in his field. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, different, and customized to the function of the structure, his work symbolizes the innovation for which Princeton is clearly striving, including advances in the financing of student education and in the educational and personal diversity of the University's senior leadership. Yet again, I am proud of Old Nassau. A loud locomotive to Mr. Rawson ’66 and the rest of the trustees for a job well done!

Seth Katz ’89
South Orange, N.J.

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December 18, 2001

While I support the construction of a library, I regret the fact that Princeton has opted to select a design that is immediately identifiable as being a "Gehry" rather than a "Princeton" building. In recent years it seems that architects draw monuments mainly to themselves and institutional clients stampede like lemmings to their door. Some of Gehry's most recent buildings look as if someone has turned over a bowl of titanium Fritos. These self-referential structures unfortunately market the architect more than they serve the client. While sculpture is interesting in its own right, a smaller version as an exhibit in an architectural museum might be less expensive. Where is Yale's Tom Wolfe (From Bauhaus to Our House) when we need him?

Marshall Long ’65
Sherman Oaks, Calif.

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