Regarding the new university art museum, I am overcome with admiration for Sir David Adjaye and Dr. James Steward. The new museum complex will be the best addition to Princeton in a hundred years. It will become a destination for students, professors, and tourists alike. At long last Princeton has grown up and achieved its destiny, no longer a retro-fitted boarding school for boys from good families.
With its long, covered enfilades, sensitive appreciation of natural light, engaging horizontality, and Gothic-referential verticality, the new museum complex takes command of the campus with confidence and humility, two attributes that rarely go hand in hand in great architecture. Moreover, it provides a nucleus to a campus that despite its many physical virtues — beautiful trees and flowers, lovely climate, manageable scale, cute little town — always felt haphazard.
As an undergraduate in the early 1970s I spent lots of time walking to and fro, as one does, but I never found a spot in which I felt comfortable to stop, a place of relaxed congregation. The campus simply had no center, and that deficiency was genuinely alienating. I believe that now there will be many little nooks in the new complex which will become favorite hang-outs — partly indoors, partly outdoors — ideal for the post-COVID world. For a university that, unlike Yale, never really threw itself headlong into the centrality of its museum, the Adjaye museum marks a radical transformation to the campus landscape. As it should be, the museum will become the heart and heartbeat of the school.
Those execrable down-campus quads and oddball residential colleges will now happily become charming quirks we don’t have to take too seriously. We may stride through them knowing that pretty soon we will be sitting in the museum complex surrounded by objects of beauty situated in an architecture of real intelligence. To my eye the true virtuosity in the buildings is their elegant functionality, their refusal to insist on the architect’s personal statement. (Oh, how tiresome egomaniacal starchitects can be!) Instead of imposing a hard style soon to become stale, the stone exteriors will become tranquil backdrops to Princeton’s thrilling trees and storybook Neo-Gothic.
I was particularly pleased to see the interior wood beams and broken-up ceilings that should provide nicely muffled acoustics. Inside and out, the museum will be a place to walk and to think. Isn’t that what a campus is for?