The projected Art Museum is a mixed blessing. The careful attention on the interior to changes of scale and texture, openness and closure, and variety of materials and lighting is handled with the architect’s customary aplomb. Yet the fateful decision to locate the expanded exhibition space all on one floor, dividing it into pavilions around a large, central atrium/lecture hall/theater, places the design on a collision course with the campus layout by forcing too big a footprint on the site. As Sean Sawyer ’88 and Eric Shullman ’15 have each pointed out (Inbox, January issue), the design violates the two basic planning principles that have governed the historic core of Princeton’s campus: It crowds the outdoor space around Dod and Brown Halls and, we add, along McCosh Walk as well; and it interrupts the long diagonal vistas that are the especial joy and unique pride of the Princeton campus. In other words, it is a great building in the wrong place.
To mitigate these problems, open the ground-level wall facing Dod to partially restore the vista. And, in place of the massive and scale-less corrugated concrete facades, differentiate the pavilions with varied and smaller-scale features so as to approach the stated goal of making them “follies,” which means diminutive, not bulky, forms. Otherwise, the new Art Museum may bring to mind the popular phrase that this is an example of the “edifice complex.”
Editor’s note: Richard A. Etlin is a Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at the School of Architecture of the University of Maryland. Beatrice Rehl is publisher and fine arts editor at Cambridge University Press.