A New Museum for Princeton

The future Main Entrance to the Art Museum, with a signature “lens” moment above, spilling light onto the terrace below

Construction of a bold and welcoming new Museum building at the heart of the University campus is slated to begin in early 2021. Announced in 2018, overseen by Art Museum Director James Steward, and designed by the world-renowned Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye and his firm Adjaye Associates, in collaboration with executive architects Cooper Robertson, the new Art Museum building will roughly double space for the exhibition, conservation, study, and interpretation of the Museum’s globe-spanning collections; for mounting exhibitions; and for a new range of social spaces and visitor amenities. At a time of 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. The new Museum is anticipated to open in late 2024.

The new Museum complex as seen from the southwest corner, with Dod Hall to the left; the outdoor terraces here will accommodate up to 2,000 people

“Sir David’s architecture and the globe-spanning galleries within will invite visitors to see themselves as citizens of a broader set of communities,” notes Steward, “which in turn will, we hope, nurture a deeper sense of our shared humanity. The design will give us a building that fosters new modes of investigation, allows us to deploy our collections in new and more inclusive ways, and affords new moments of aspiration and inspiration.”

The Museum site is impacted by pressures and circulatory elements from all sides, demanding a building that tries to be “all fronts and no backs”

At the Heart of a Historic Campus

The new building will rise on the site of the current Museum, at the heart of Princeton’s storied campus, placing its globe-spanning collections in the daily path of the University community and serving as a welcoming gateway for visitors from around the world. The design inserts itself dynamically into campus life with key pedestrian pathways flowing into and through the Museum via two “art walks”—thoroughfares that function as the new building’s circulatory spine. Seven “pavilions” scale the size of the new building to account for the historic buildings nearby and to allow for more varied gallery experiences. The design also shapes a new home for the University’s Department of Art & Archaeology, while retaining Marquand Library; together, the three units will continue to function as a dynamic center for research and teaching.

One of a number of more intimately scaled gallery spaces suitable to smaller works from the Museum’s expansive collections, with glimpses of visible storage elements to be found throughout the facility

Designed for Dynamic Teaching and Scholarship

The Art Museum is a major center for the study of the visual arts and the humanities in the United States, and the new design reaffirms its commitment to the evolving practice of object-based inquiry and the principle that excellence should be available to everyone. While the Museum’s expansive collections include over 110,000 works of art from cultures all over the globe, no more than 2 percent of these can be on display at any time in the current facility.  

Four pavilions located at each corner of the new complex will feature expansive 18-foot-high ceilings, daylighting, hardwood floors, and a Glulam ceiling system that covers many of the space’s systems

“The reconstruction of the 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.”

In addition to expanded galleries for displaying changing selections from the collections and for mounting temporary exhibitions, visible storage will provide additional opportunities for scholars and students to access the collections freely.

The double-height Grand Hall sits at the heart of the Museum complex and will function as a lecture hall and performance space that will host many of the Museum’s larger events

A New Way to Encounter Art

The design of the new building allows the Museum’s globe-spanning 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 narratives 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.

This view from the west suggests the interplay of the solid forms of the anchoring pavilions and the bronze and glass “lens” moments positioned between them. To the left: the sculpture "Any (Body) Oddly Propped" by Mike and Doug Starn

About the Building

The design embodies flexibility, openness, and connectivity to break down barriers to participation and invite entry by all.

The new Museum will occupy three stories, featuring seven primary interlocked pavilions containing many of the building’s new galleries, interspersed with more intimate gallery spaces that break 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 rich history of the surrounding environment. With a pulsating rhythm that responds to the delicate forms of nearby buildings and with the “push-pull” of its undulating facades, the new facility will welcome visitors from all directions through a design that strives to be “all fronts and no backs.”

A singular “lens” moment at the complex’s northeast corner creates an intimate viewing and reading room, affords views onto the campus, and shapes a display opportunity for unique works from the collections

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 extraordinary vistas out onto the beautiful Princeton campus. The design includes outdoor terraces that diminish borders between indoors and out, including spaces for performances and events that can accommodate 200 to 2,000 users. 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. At the ground level, permeability and accessibility are prioritized while affording tantalizing and uplifting glimpses into the galleries—most of which will be located on the building’s second level—even during times when the galleries might be closed.

Project architect Sir David Adjaye in a design session with Museum Director James Steward, January 2020

About the Architect

Adjaye Associates was selected as the project architect in September 2018, in collaboration with Cooper Robertson as the project’s 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.

The recipient of numerous awards and accolades for his global body of work, Sir David Adjaye is perhaps best known as the designer behind the Smithsonian’s groundbreaking National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

  • Principals & Partners

    Principals & Partners

    Read about architect Sir David Adjaye, Museum Director James Steward, University Architect Ron McCoy, and project partners

  • Sustainability

    Sustainability

    The new Museum building will employ materials and systems that use less water, cultivate healthy habitats, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints. Click to learn more.

  • Project Fact Sheet

    Project Fact Sheet

    At-a-glance information including timeline, materials, dimensions, and more

  • Watch, Listen, Read

    Watch, Listen, Read

    Explore videos, interviews, and articles about the ideas informing the new Museum.