The Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey, revealed designs for its new building that embodies flexibility, openness, and connectivity to break down barriers to participation and invite entry by all.
Sir David Adjaye, founder of Adjaye Associates, is the design architect. The building will replace and roughly double the square footage of the existing facility, which occupies a central location on Princeton’s campus. The design employs a mix of traditional materials—including stone, bronze, and glass—that speaks both to the present moment and the historic Princeton context.
At a time of national self-reflection for both museums and universities, the design embodies the museum’s long-standing commitment to serve as a hub and a gathering place, a nexus for the arts and humanities—a metaphor for the college campus at its best—that affords encounters with cultures past and present from around the world and seeks to foster stronger citizenship among its university, local, and global communities, Princeton University said in a press release. The new building design overcomes multiple historic barriers to participation, making the visual arts an essential part of the university experience for all Princeton students and an accessible home of democratic engagement for community members and visitors.
“The reconstruction of the Princeton University Art Museum is conceived as a campus within the campus,” said Adjaye, “a space of genuine inquiry where the exhibition of diverse practices, learning as a synthesis of knowledge and cross-cultural connections weave together into a singular experience that encompasses a multiplicity of ideas and peoples.”
The new museum will occupy three stories, featuring seven primary interlocked pavilions containing many of the building’s new galleries, interspersed with more intimate spaces breaking down the scale of the whole while knitting the elements of the new building into the campus landscape. The exterior of the building is characterized by alternating rough and polished stone surfaces inspired by the history of the surrounding environment. With a pulsating rhythm that responds to the forms of nearby buildings and with the “push-pull” of its undulating façades, the new facility will welcome visitors from all directions through a design that strives to be “all fronts and no backs.”
The design of the new building allows the museum’s collections to be exhibited substantially on a single level, shaping new ways of encountering the collections, privileging ideas of cultural contact and exchange, and fostering new modes of storytelling. By challenging the traditional hierarchies inherent in multilevel gallery display, the museum will foster moments of discovery and surprise as visitors encounter ideas and objects in ways that move beyond the boundaries of geography and chronology. This approach brings architecture and curatorial practice together in a manner that is rare among major cultural institutions. Galleries will alternate in volume to accommodate the museum’s varied collections and to combat visitor fatigue, while elements of visible storage will feature significantly throughout the museum building, allowing curators to vary the density of display and create moments ideally suited for scholars as well as for general visitors.
Numerous bronze and glass “lenses” are positioned between the pavilions to break up the scale of the complex and to shape framed glimpses into the museum and vistas out onto the Princeton campus. The design includes outdoor terraces that diminish borders between indoors and out, including spaces for performances and events. A Grand Hall for lectures, performances, and events; numerous classroom spaces and two “creativity labs”; and a rooftop café will serve university audiences, adults, and K to 12 students.
As an investment in the architecture of our time, the new building will join nearly 30 architectural styles reflected on Princeton’s campus. The design inserts itself into campus life by maintaining key pedestrian pathways flowing into and through the museum via two “art walks”— thoroughfares functioning as the new building’s circulatory spine. At the ground level, permeability and accessibility are prioritized while affording glimpses into the galleries, most of which will be located on the building’s second level, even during times of day when the galleries might be closed. The decision to build the new museum at the historic site of the current facility intentionally positions the museum at the physical heart of the campus, and keeps it physically adjacent to the university’s Department of Art and Archaeology and to Marquand Library, as an important research center for the humanities.
Adjaye Associates was selected as the project architect in September 2018, in collaboration with Cooper Robertson as the executive architect. Since work on the project began, the museum, Adjaye Associates, and Cooper Robertson have been united in the belief that great architecture can offer solace and grace and be a source of collective memory and communal experience.
Construction is slated to begin in 2021 with an anticipated opening in late 2024.