Current Issue

Nov.19, 2008

Vol. 109, No. 5

(Un)sustainable architecture

In response to: The Gehry that landed on Ivy Lane

Barksdale Maynard ’88 says Whitman College was constructed with “archaic technology.” Actually, Whitman features a variant of the modern cavity-wall system. A load-bearing interior envelope of concrete block, with horizontal and vertical steel reinforcement, supports steel-reinforced concrete floor planks and steel roof trusses. The cavity walls’ self-supporting exterior stone envelope is exceptional for thickness and magnificent, unabashedly traditional craftsmanship. But the walls would have to be much thicker had an older construction technology been employed.

Maynard never mentions sustainability. Whitman, designed by Demetri Porphyrios *80, is sustainable architecture par excellence. Barring some unforeseeable catastrophe, it is going to age gracefully in the decades and centuries ahead. Frank Gehry’s Lewis Library — admittedly an appropriately comic response to the Darth-Vader-style Fine Tower next door — will simply deteriorate. Surely Maynard is joking when he avers that the “keynote” of this jumbled, extravagant exercise in industrial rococo is “utilitarianism.”

In terms of long-term structural performance, not to mention cultural value as gauged by the increase in Princeton’s cherished stock of humanistic architecture, the University made a far sounder investment with Whitman College. The Lewis Library is an eye-catching building. But compared to Whitman, it’s a three-dimensional vanity plate.

Catesby Leigh ’79
Washington, D.C.

Post Comments
Tell us what you think about
(Un)sustainable architecture
Enter the word as it appears in the picture below
By submitting a comment, you agree to PAW's comment posting policy.
CURRENT ISSUE: Nov.19, 2008

Inbox Search:


* Online archives date back to Sept. 1995. The date filters only work for content posted after December 2007.

Browsing Letters 2008-2009

Inbox (Archives)

PAW welcomes letters on its contents and topics related to Princeton University. We may edit them for length, accuracy, clarity, and civility; brevity is encouraged. As a general guideline, letters should not exceed 275 words. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to publish all letters received. Letters, articles, photos, and comments submitted to PAW may be published in print, electronic, or other forms. Write to PAW, 194 Nassau St., Suite 38, Princeton, NJ 08542; send email to; or call 609-258-4885.