Architect selected for Whitman College

Princeton NJ -- Princeton graduate alumnus Demetri Porphyrios, one of the world's leading traditional-style architects, has been selected to design the University's sixth residential college.


Demetri Porphyrios

The principal of the London-based Porphyrios Associates was named the design architect for Whitman College by the University's trustees at their meeting April 13.

His award-winning portfolio includes a number of buildings and urban projects carried out in England, Europe, the United States and the Middle East. He designed student accommodations, administrative offices and an auditorium for the Grove Quadrangle at Oxford University's Magdalen College in 1994 and student accommodations, administrative offices, an auditorium and a library at Cambridge University's Selwyn College in 1996. Known for his work in traditional, classical architectural forms, Porphyrios earned his master of architecture degree in 1974, his master of arts degree in 1975 and his Ph.D. degree in architecture in 1980, all from Princeton.

Demetri Porphyrios designed student accommodations, administrative offices and an auditorium for the Grove Quadrangle at Oxford University's Magdalen College in 1994.


The trustees made the selection following deliberations that began eight months ago. The process initially hinged on the choice of architectural style for the college, according to Jon Hlafter, director of physical planning. "The trustees decided that the building should be in the collegiate gothic style like Princeton's dormitory buildings from the first third of the 20th century," he said. "They felt the new college needed to speak the same language as the surrounding buildings."

The original designers of these buildings, which include Blair, Holder, Hamilton, Patton and Pyne halls, adapted architectural styles associated with Oxford and Cambridge to local conditions.

Last summer, University administrators contacted 16 firms that work in traditional architectural styles. The list was narrowed to eight firms that were interviewed last fall by trustees and members of the president's advisory committee on architecture. The committee selected Porphyrios Associates to conduct a feasibility study to determine whether it could complete the project within a proposed budget and timeframe.

"It was really on the strength of his knowledge about Princeton and his experience with buildings at Oxford and Cambridge that there was a consensus that he would be the right person to do the feasibility study," Hlafter said.

Porphyrios Associates worked in partnership with Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, the East Coast firm that was responsible for the 1999 renovation of the University's Blair Hall.

After considering the feasibility study at their April 13 meeting, the trustees named Porphyrios the design architect and Einhorn Yaffee Prescott the executive architect for Whitman College.

"Porphyrios is really one of the premier architects in the world in terms of traditional style and working with traditional architecture," said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, chair of the trustee grounds and buildings committee, a principal of the Miami-based architectural firm, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., and dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Miami.

"I think we couldn't have found a better firm to do this," she said. "The projects that he's done in the United States and elsewhere in the world are proof of his high standards and his knowledge."


A shot from the interior of Oxford's Magdalen College.


Stone, slate and oak

The 230,000-square-foot Whitman College will be constructed north of Baker Rink. It will provide dormitory, dining, social, cultural, educational and recreational space for 500 students from all four undergraduate classes, along with a number of graduate students. The total cost of construction is estimated at $100 million.

The design of the college is expected to take approximately two years, with construction scheduled to begin in spring 2004. The project should be completed in spring 2006, so that students can occupy the dormitory for the first time that fall.

The building will have exterior stone walls, a slate roof and oak doors and window frames. In keeping with the design of other Princeton buildings, the new college is expected to have courtyards, towers and covered arcades. Rooms will have oak floors and trim; communal spaces will likely have working fireplaces.

"The new Whitman College should make reference to the wider context of the historic Princeton campus and the great humanist tradition of its collegiate architecture," Porphyrios wrote in the feasibility study. "This is an architecture of robust, durable, civil and beautiful buildings. Their materials weather, age and mature with usage and time.

"If architecture is to justify its existence, it must continue to occupy itself with values," he wrote. "The new Whitman College should be a testimony to excellence; it should continue a tradition that has permanent value and perpetual modernity."

Maintaining accessibility

The construction of the new college will enable an 11 percent increase in the undergraduate student body from about 4,600 to 5,100 that was approved two years ago by the trustees. It will be the first significant increase in undergraduate enrollment since the advent of co-education in 1969. Along with recently enacted improvements in the University's financial-aid program, it is intended to ensure that Princeton remains accessible to a broad range of students from all economic backgrounds.

The new college also will prompt a change in the University's residential college system. Currently, freshmen and sophomores live and dine in one of the five existing residential colleges, which have libraries, study spaces, game rooms, seminar rooms, coffeehouses and theaters. Most juniors and seniors, however, live in dormitories and eat in private eating clubs or prepare their own meals. With the new college, this system will be enhanced so that three colleges, including Whitman College, will house students from all four classes and some graduate students, increasing interaction and allowing upper-class students to take fuller advantage of the colleges' social and cultural offerings.

The college is named for Meg Whitman, president and chief executive officer of eBay Inc., a Princeton trustee and a member of the class of 1977, and her family, who earlier this year announced a $30 million gift toward the construction of the new residential college.

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