Schwartz/Silver Architects

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Princeton University’s Humanities Departments, comprising 17 programs in cultural and language studies, comparative literature, and linguistics, have been dispersed for the last fifty years through a number of different sites on campus. Schwartz/Silver was engaged to develop a newly integrated Humanities Center, incorporated into two of the earliest examples of Gothic architecture at Princeton: Chancellor Green and East Pyne. The challenge is therefore to address all of the different departmental needs in a single common facility, and to return two of the university’s landmark buildings to their former significance on campus.

Chancellor Green Library, designed by William Potter in 1873, was Princeton’s first library. A significant expansion was designed by Potter in 1897, now known as East Pyne. In 1948, when library functions were moved to the new Firestone Library, East Pyne was converted to use as a faculty office building, housing the Humanities Council and offices and classrooms of academic departments, and Chancellor Green was converted into a café. Fifty years later, the buildings were in dire need of renovation. Circulation within East Pyne was disorienting, with frequent changes in level and direction, and the historic character of Chancellor Green was lost as original finishes were replaced or removed.

Schwartz/Silver is completely rehabilitating the original structures, while providing first class accommodations for offices and seminar rooms, a new lecture hall and language lab, café, and a small humanities library within the fabric of historic Chancellor Green. The process of developing a rationale for the project, including a detailed evaluation of program requirements, has been carefully orchestrated with all the departments to build a new community of interests. This effort determined that the existing buildings were inadequate to house all of the required uses. In order to preserve the historic landmark quality of the buildings, new space was discretely added by two different approaches. First, at the lowest level of East Pyne, new space was created by excavating portions of the building that were previously crawl spaces or unexcavated areas under the building courtyard. The new space contains uses not requiring views or natural light – primarily the lecture hall and language lab. Second, a small freestanding building was added north of Chancellor Green, mirroring an existing frame building housing humanities uses, and creating a formal humanities lawn fronting onto Princeton’s main address on Nassau Street.

East Pyne will continue to house academic offices and classrooms, in a restored architectural fabric entered off the central courtyard. Circulation patterns have been rationalized, with a large open stair connecting all levels. Small windowed lounges on the upper levels connect to the efficient ring-shaped circulation, providing orientation and resting spaces within what might otherwise be a disorienting pattern of corridors. The historic main space of Chancellor Green, having served as a student center for the last 50 years, will revert to its original use as a study library with a relatively small book collection. Historic finishes, including polychromatic stenciled walls and historically correct bookcases, will be combined with full electronic capabilities, air conditioning, and a glass enclosed lift that will allow accessibility for the handicapped. At the lowest level of Chancellor Green, a new café, opening onto the humanities lawn, will provide a modern retail and lounge space, where students can check their e-mail, meet with friends, and get a light meal or cup of coffee. These social amenities, together with the new library, will provide an environment to encourage interaction and community between departments used to functioning apart. The restored historic spaces will give a unifying sense of purpose and identity to the Humanities at Princeton.

Princeton University Humanities Center

Princeton, New Jersey

Historic Restoration / Addition

Client: Princeton University

Size (sf): 98,500

Cost: $27,500,000

Completed: 2003

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