Princeton Picks Holl for Strength in Programs

Jan. 1, 2008
Steven Holl Architects, an award-winning firm with extensive experience in the arts, has been selected to design the initial academic buildings for Princeton University's new arts and transit neighborhood.

The firm, with offices in New York and Beijing, is led by Steven Holl, who was named America's Best Architect by Time magazine in July 2001 for "buildings that satisfy the spirit as well as the eye."

He most recently designed an expansion and renovation of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO, which opened this past June. Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker, wrote that Holl had produced a "striking and inventive a piece of architectural form," and described it as "a serene and exhilarating place in which to view art." The project won a 2008 Institute Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.

At Princeton, the firm will be responsible for designing several buildings to house the Program in Theater and Dance, components of the Department of Music, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the Society of Fellows in the Creative and Performing Arts. Encompassing an estimated 135,000 gross square feet, the preliminary plans include a black box theatre, a large dance studio, an orchestral rehearsal studio, several smaller acting studios, dance studios, music practice rooms, classrooms, support spaces, a café, and offices.

The move will allow the programs in visual arts and creative writing to expand at 185 Nassau St., the current location of the Lewis Center and theater and dance, and provide facilities in addition to those available in the Woolworth Center of Musical Studies.

The new buildings will be part of the arts and transit neighborhood to be created near the intersection of Alexander Street and University Place. The neighborhood is included in the University's Campus Plan, a comprehensive effort to guide development through 2016 and beyond that was produced over the last two years.

The area, already home to the McCarter Theatre Center's Matthews and Berlind theaters, is considered an ideal location for various facilities the university needs to meet the goals of the creative and performing arts initiative announced by President Shirley M. Tilghman in January 2006. Other arts facilities proposed, for which different architects will be named, are an experimental media studio and a satellite for the Princeton University Art Museum.

Mark Burstein, executive vice president, said one of the reasons the selection committee chose Steven Holl Architects was the firm's strength in using complicated programs as the basis for excellent architecture.

"We were looking for an architect who thrives on a complex program, and not only having a plan support that program but also having the buildings connect the programs together -- almost integrate the programs spatially," he said. 

One example is the building Steven Holl Architects designed for the University of Iowa's School of Art and Art History, which received an Institute Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects last year. The school's program for the project led the architect to a compelling massing and floor plan, and also actually pushed Holl to convince the school to change the building site in order to move it closer to other existing art buildings and to use a pond and a bluff as part of the landscaping.

Burstein said the committee also was drawn to Holl because of his use of light to open up spaces. At the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the firm created five glass pavilions that draw light down into the galleries that are banked into the hillside.

Steven Holl Architects has designed cultural, civic, academic, and residential projects around the world, ranging from a number of other arts facilities to a public works project to a church. Paul Muldoon, chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts, is excited about the prospects of working with the firm.

"We're delighted to see the beginning of the next phase of development of the arts at Princeton, and particularly delighted to see that the responsibility of designing the first landmark buildings in the new arts and transit neighborhood falls to an architect of the first water like Steven Holl," he said.

"I use the term 'first water' advisedly, because Steven Holl has designed everything from the Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park in southern Connecticut to the Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle. In every case, he is clearly passionate about the relationship of his plan not only to the immediate place but the larger place of the planet," Muldoon continued. "Among my own favorites are his Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki and the Center for the Arts in Herning, Denmark (currently under construction) -- buildings which are at once inspired and inspirational. We are thrilled to think that the buildings designed by Steven Holl Architects in which so much art will be made by successive generations of Princeton students will themselves be major works of art." 

© 2008 The Trustees of Princeton University


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