Members of the Princeton Student Colony share a pot of tea before a lecture inside their geodesic home on the New South lawn. PHOTO: HABIN CHUNG ’12
In the middle of a gray winter, a 20-foot, neon-orange geodesic tent bloomed in the middle of the New South lawn. The tent belongs to the Princeton Student Colony — jokingly nicknamed “Occupy New South” — a Princeton Atelier class designed to create a functional settlement in one semester.
Some observers were excited, like Charles Du ’13, who hoped that the result would be a utopian society with free massages. Others were more skeptical. “I thought they were joking,” said Eleanor Taranto ’13. “This is the type of thing some small liberal-arts college where you can major in saving the world would do.” The general consensus echoed Richard Gadsden ’13’s question: “How does living in a tent count as a class?”
In fact, students were not required to live in the tent, but they have spent nearly seven hours each Monday in this literal orange bubble. The tent doubles as a settlement and a space to host visiting artists and performers, including Ant Farm founder Chip Lord and Los Angeles artist/activist Robby Herbst.
The nine students who make up the colony initially were unsure of what to expect. Elizabeth Cooper ’12 was attracted by the community aspect. Laura Preston ’13 wanted to collaborate creatively. And Donald Judd ’12 was captivated by the course description, which depicted the colony as an “evolving laboratory/stage/lounge/platform/ headquarters for the presentation and performance of fundamental human activities” such as dancing, gathering, eating, stretching, and napping. “Any class that advertises ‘napping’ under its curriculum is going to make me stop and read more,” Judd explained.
As the semester passed its midpoint, the colony stayed true to its unofficial slogan: “We’re figuring it out as we go!” With artist and ecologist Fritz Haeg and architect Dan Wood as collaborators, students struggled with the idea that the colony truly was their project. “I’m used to having a professor with a guiding vision,” said Charlotte Leib ’13. “Fritz is so hands-off that it’s disorienting at first.”
“How do you want to live?” Haeg asked as the seminar underwent a transition from hosting visiting artists to becoming a blank canvas for the students. Each student was in charge of leading a seminar: Paolo Iaccarino ’12 was thinking of teaching a dance; Ray Auduong ’12 said he would love to create a dog park.
Slowly, the settlers settled in. Sharing a platform with the tent were a barbecue grill, lawn chairs, and wreckage (dubbed “raw material”) that the class rescued from a salvage yard. Three manhole covers waited to be painted. A log served as a bench. Inside, the tent seemed spacious. Makeshift shelves held books, teakettles, and spices. Two space heaters kept toes warm on chilly days — there is a strict no-shoes policy.
While the unstructured time first felt unfamiliar, activities such as simple conversations with classmates, impromptu Frisbee games, and cooking dinner together became times to be savored. And there is an open invitation to the entire campus to stop by and hang out. As Judd noted, “The weather is getting nicer, and it’s a good place to chill.”
Video by Vivienne Chen ’14