A study in contrasts: Initial plans revealed for Whitman College, science library

By Ruth Stevens

Princeton NJ -- While still in the early planning stages, it's already apparent that two major construction projects slated to begin in 2004 will bring some eye-catching -- and dramatically contrasting -- architecture to the campus.

The early designs for the science library show a central tower -- about half the height of Fine Tower at right -- surrounded by two wings, all faced with metal and glass.

In September, the trustees' Committee on Grounds and Buildings reviewed preliminary designs for the two projects: Whitman College, the University's sixth residential college, which will be built between Baker Rink and Dillon Gym; and the science library, which will be constructed on the corner of Washington Road and Ivy Lane near Fine Hall.

Demetri Porphyrios, a Princeton graduate alumnus and one of the world's leading traditional-style architects, is designing Whitman College. Frank Gehry, who is known for his body of provocative, expressionistic work, is creating the plans for the science library.

Three courtyards

Whitman will be designed in the collegiate gothic style that ties in with nearby dormitories built in the first third of the 20th century. The model of the 275,000-square-foot structure shown to the trustees features three courtyards. The north court is three sided and joined to a south court, which is four sided but is accessible through an open arcade, according to Jon Hlafter, director of physical planning. Current plans also show an open, three-sided east court that incorporates a master's residence.

"All of that openness is very intentional," said Hlafter, who pointed out that Goheen Walk will penetrate the south courtyard. "Demetri Porphyrios has described Princeton collegiate gothic courtyards as much more open than their precedents at Oxford and Cambridge, which tend to be completely enclosed quadrangles that can only be entered through a gate."

The current design features exterior stone walls, peaked slate roofs, oak doors and traditional leaded glass casement windows.

   This initial model for Whitman College shows three courtyards incorporated into the design. At the top left is New South and at the top right is Dillon Gym. The four-sided south courtyard is accessible through an open arcade.

Hlafter said that reaction among the trustees was "very positive." The Committee on Grounds and Buildings has authorized the University administration to further examine the current design, he said. The next step is to assess the plans to make sure the college can be built within its $100 million budget.

"In the interactions that occurred over the summer and early fall between the architect team and the various University constituencies -- particularly the program committee -- the architects were encouraged to incorporate a number of features and program components that have expanded the size and scope of the building," Hlafter said. "Now we're in a period of consolidating what we require and trying to make sure that we can produce a building that's within our budget range."

The Four-Year College Program Planning Committee also presented its report to the trustees at their September meeting. The report proposes modifications in advising/staff, programming, housing and dining to convert the University's current system of five two-year colleges into a system of paired two- and four-year colleges. (See page 1 of the Sept. 30 Princeton Weekly Bulletin.)

Bold, curved shapes

Gehry's signature bold, curved shapes that seem to defy gravity are evident in the design of the science library. Initial plans show a central tower -- about half the height of Fine Tower -- surrounded by two wings, all faced with metal and glass. Hlafter noted that some of the elements of the structure may be brick, tying in with the surrounding buildings.

"This is 180 degrees away from what we're working on at Whitman," he said. "Obviously, Frank Gehry is one of the truly innovative architects of the 21st century. Rather than look to the past for inspiration, he has his own unique personal style, which is very sculptural and makes use of metal and glass in ways that no other architect does."

The tower will house the library component of the building, consolidating the geosciences, chemistry, ecology and evolutionary biology and molecular biology branch libraries and connecting below grade to the math and physics library in Fine Hall. "Unlike many historic libraries, this one will have relatively few book stacks, and virtually all of those will be at the lowest level below grade," Hlafter said. "What comes out of the ground and into the air is a series of spaces that are surrounded by smaller cubicles or rooms that are either offices or study areas or small conference areas, where people who are doing research will work and meet together."

In the center will be other workstations and access to information, usually in electronic form. "Since all of the floors have not yet been fully programmed, it will be hard to describe what will happen," Hlafter said. "It may differ from floor to floor. We hope those areas will respond to the changing needs of libraries in the future."

One of the wings will have the Digital Map and Geospatial Information Center on the upper levels and an auditorium and classrooms on the lower levels. The upper levels of the other wing will house the Office of Information Technology's Academic Technology Center (including the Educational Technologies Center and the New Media Center) and the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering. Classrooms will be on the lower levels. The budget for the project is $60 million.

Hlafter said that the reaction to the early plans so far has been excitement and optimism -- combined with some uncertainty.

"Frank Gehry's buildings are unusual, and people aren't quite sure what to expect," he said. "A collegiate gothic building is something that you can go to another part of the campus and see what it's like. There's nothing else in Princeton that will be quite like the Gehry building.

"There are some concerns about very mundane things, like whether we'll be able to wash the windows that are high up on the façade -- things that people don't worry about in more conventional buildings because there is a better sense of how the work gets done," he said.

As with Whitman College, the next step is estimating the costs represented in the schematic design. "We're hoping that, by the first of the year, we will have satisfied ourselves that both projects are on budget and that both will continue into design development and working drawings," Hlafter said.

He said it is hoped that construction can begin in early 2004. The projects are scheduled to be completed by the middle of 2006 and occupied in that fall semester.

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