The New Jersey university, with Gehry Partners Llp., has embarked on a difficult task: to reinvent the library for an age when information largely takes on electronic rather than print form. Lewis, 74, chairman of auto insurer Progressive Corp. and a Princeton graduate, is a longtime Gehry champion. He gave $60 million (about Rs300 crore) for the project’s $74 million budget.
One never expects a Gehry design to be a sober monument to scholarship. The Lewis library’s gregarious explosion of forms sits in a growing complex devoted to a broad range of sciences and related fields. It draws from them all.
The entrance is a butterfly-winged vestibule that opens to a great, angular fissure. High overhead, a jitterbugging skylight lights a pathway through the building. The library visibly pushes itself into the fissure in great serrated sheets of glass. It almost impales a separate pair of chunky wings, one appropriately capped by a roof in the profile of a prone question mark. They house teams that concern themselves with what is replacing print: information technology, new media, and computational science and engineering.
The passage is conceived as a cafe-table-dotted street, paved in honey-toned Spanish limestone. As many disciplines share the classrooms, library and a media lab, the street intends to promote collaboration and that Holy Grail of research: the casual hatching of a groundbreaking idea.
“Libraries are becoming more a space where people come to access data and also more of a study space, research space and to some extent, a social space,” says Gehry Partners’ Craig Webb, the library’s project designer, in a phone interview from Los Angeles.
But is the whole idea of a library itself obsolete as more students use the Internet for research? “Dorm life is too distracting,” says Dorothy Pearson, Princeton’s associate university librarian for administrative services, over the phone. Students go to the library to focus on their work, she says. But where are the books?
The stacks you’d expect in a building that houses collections as varied as astrophysics, biology and statistics have largely been restricted to a surprisingly small high-density storage space in the basement.
Though a few reference books and print journals can be found at the entrance, the library, signals its new role from the minute you step in.
Tree of knowledge
Its information desk—a canary yellow squiggle—invites consultation with librarians. Upstairs, students find three levels of glorious high-ceilinged, light-filled study space.
These rooms, as high as 20ft, are dominated by the jagged planes of glass visible on the exterior. They form bays that open to vistas across the campus, and contemplate Gehry’s spectacular roofscape. Hidden windows beautifully balance the light. These are the contemporary equivalents of the cathedral-style reading rooms that are the icons of Collegiate Gothic campuses everywhere.
The architectural pyrotechnics recognize that students choose workspaces as much for their qualities of silence and light as for their location or connection to a given discipline. Numerous group-study rooms encourage collaboration. The most prominent is what the Gehry team dubbed the “treehouse” for its arcing, overlapping ceiling forms tucked among mature trees. With large tables, it resembles an upscale dining hall, and may prove just as noisy and freewheeling.
The Lewis bears a family resemblance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s far larger Stata Center, a Gehry design controversial for its cost and for leaks now being litigated. While Stata is expansive and bustling, jammed with research teams that swarm the place night and day, Princeton’s library feels chillier (especially the sterile classrooms), genteel and more introverted.
The Lewis just opened for fall term. It’s too early to tell if it will become Princeton’s central focus of scientific inquiry. Other universities are watching, worrying about the silence gathering around their own book stacks. Then again, as a place to curl up with a laptop—maybe even a book—the Lewis is pretty hard to beat.
Inspired readings: Gehry’s design redefines the university library.
1. The exterior is composed of stainless steel, steel, clay brick, glass and stucco. Gehry Partners used a material called Ziprib for the roofs and some of the walls, along with embossed stainless steel. The finish is intended to look like linen, with a soft, glowing appearance.
2. Over the atrium, a star cut into the ceiling separates levels 100 and 200 and is an architectural highlight.
3.“ The Street” offers café seating and leads into the library.
4. Lights hang from a ceiling almost 34ft high in the “ Treehouse” (level 200). The expansive, glass-enclosed room skims the tree line, and looks out onto neighbouring treetops.
5.Below ground, on the “ A level”, the library has squirrelled away its compact book stacks
Photographs by Brian Wilson, Princeton University Office of Communications
Write to us at email@example.com
From ancient Egyptian ceremonial incense to Mesopotamian ointments to lotions from medieval France, the newly reopened International Perfume Museum, Grasse (near Cannes) traces perfume’s past. The chronological, interactive and olfactory tour is presented along three themes: seduction, healing and communication. The collection’s centrepiece: an 80kg “travel” vanity case of mahogany and leather, once owned by Marie-Antoinette. Grasse was once a global centre for producing natural extracts of jasmine, rose and orange blossom. These come mostly from outside France now, but Grasse maintains a foothold in formulating perfumes and food flavours. AFP
Bizarre couplings rule ‘The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions’—the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s tribute to its retiring director of 31 years. Specialists from its 17 curatorial departments mined 84,000 works acquired during his tenure for just 300 to represent his vision. Their presentation is wildly unpredictable, organized by dates of acquisition: an early 1990s Lucian Freud painting of an enormous male along with a carved marble bust of 17th cenutry Florentine patron Cosimo III de Medici. Evidently, Montebello collected this mountain of paintings, swords, chalices, ball gowns, tapestries and more with spectacular taste. Bloomberg
If you felt the atmosphere in the new hip Club Watt in Rotterdam was electric, you would be right: It has a new type of dance floor that harvests energy from jumps and gyrations, transforming it into electricity. With its human engineering, Watt partly powers itself: The better the music, the more people dance, the more electricity comes out of the floor. At Watt, which describes itself as the first sustainable dance club, that electricity powers the light show in and around the floor. Watt also has rainwater-fed toilets and low-waste bars (everything is recycled). Heat is harvested from the bands’ amplifiers and other musical equipment.
©2008/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Tiny Greensburg, Kansas, rebuilding after a devastating tornado, is a model for going green. Another is Masdar City, a planned car-free community in the UAE. Both are shown in ‘Green Community’, a year-long exhibit at the National Building Museum, Washington. Columns of shredded tires or plastic bottles give statistics on recycling or mass transit use. Satellite images, community photos, documentaries and interactive modules display sustainable living. This is one in a series of green exhibits that have been drawing record numbers though the museum is not on the tourist route. AP