The Art Newspaper, February 15, 2023
Construction Begins on a New Home for the Princeton University Art Museum, Slated to Open in Late 2024
Designed by Sir David Adjaye, the dynamic facility will reshape the museum experience by offering innovative new ways to encounter works of art
PRINCETON, N.J. – Construction has begun on the new Princeton University Art Museum, an entirely new building on the site of the former Museum, at the heart of the Princeton campus. Roughly doubling the square footage of the existing facility, the 144,000-square-foot facility significantly increases spaces for display, learning and visitor amenities. The Museum, which will occupy three stories, will insert itself dynamically into campus life with key pedestrian pathways flowing into and through the building via two “art walks” — thoroughfares that function as the new building’s circulatory spine. A grid of nine pavilions breaks down the scale of the complex into more intimate modules and allows for deeply varied gallery experiences. The building’s exterior will be characterized by rough and polished stone surfaces responding to the campus surroundings, as well as signature bronze details throughout, alternating solid elements with more transparent features that speak both to the present moment and to the historical Princeton context. The architect Sir David Adjaye, whose firm, Adjaye Associates, is best known for its design of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, was selected as the project architect in 2018. Cooper Robertson is the executive architect.
With expansive and growing collections of more than 112,000 globe-spanning works of art from antiquity to today, the Princeton University Art Museum is a major center for the study of the humanities and the visual arts in the United States. The new building underscores Princeton’s enduring commitment to humanistic education and the Museum’s commitment both to object-based inquiry and to marrying scholarly excellence with accessibility. The new facility will also house Princeton’s Department of Art and Archaeology and Marquand Library; together, the three units will continue to function as a leading site for research and teaching. The design overcomes multiple historical 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.
Contracts were awarded in June 2021, and over the summer demolition began on the former Museum complex, most of which dated to periods of construction in the 1920s, 1960s and 1980s.
“David Adjaye’s design for Princeton reflects our deep commitment to the values of openness, transparency and interconnectedness for our campus constituents, local communities and global audiences,” said James Steward, the Museum’s Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, director. “It’s a remarkable opportunity both to build on the past and to shape a new museum at this particular historical moment, and in doing so to make clear the important role museums can continue to play in an ever more complex world.”
Princeton’s art collections date nearly to the University’s founding in 1746 — the first work of art was acquired in 1755 — making Princeton one of the oldest collecting institutions in North America. The Museum was established as a museum of the Enlightenment, bringing together the fine arts, antiquities and natural history, and its collections were from the start seen as a way of bringing the world to the students in a crossroads village in Colonial New Jersey. A professionalized museum, along with an academic department for the study of art history — then a discipline newly imported from Germany — was established in 1882, provoking the construction of a purpose-built museum on the current site, which opened in 1890.
The new building is designed to serve as a hub and a gathering place — a building of all fronts and no backs — that encourages dialogue between historical and contemporary global cultures, embodying a renewed transparency in the vital questions of institutional collecting, American colonialism and cultural property ownership — questions through which collections must be understood as constantly changing, dynamic phenomena. Featuring no fewer than four primary public entry points, the building has been designed in “zones” to allow for maximum access to the most “public” portions of the facility — gathering spaces, educational and event spaces, a café — while assuring appropriate controls to the primary gallery zone on the second level. The gallery level presents spaces that vary in volume and proportion to accommodate the Museum’s enormously diverse collections and to foster curatorial strategies that are expected to merge chronological and cultural foci with issues of contact, exchange and intersectionality. Four of the pavilions will feature mechanically controlled daylighting and 18-foot ceilings; other galleries will be shaped for more intimate experiences and the display of particularly light-sensitive works, such as the Museum’s renowned holdings of photography and of Chinese painting.
The “zones” also allow for portions of the facility to operate at different hours and for different purposes. During gallery hours, visitors will be able to visit the exhibition areas, largely located on the second floor. During expanded building hours, visitors will have access to the Education Center, Grand Hall, Museum Store and the art walks that form the core circulation on the ground floor. This zone — as well as a café on the third floor — will have extended hours seven days a week, during which glimpses can be had into the galleries, inviting a return visit during gallery hours.
A ground-floor Education Center will serve a variety of constituents and includes five of six object-study classrooms for hands-on, object-based instruction; a Grand Hall seating up to 250 people for lectures, performances and events; a lecture hall seating 60 people; two seminar rooms; and two “creativity labs” for art-making activities. A sixth object-study classroom will be located within the full-service Conservation Studio located on the second and third floors, which will provide care for paintings, objects and works on paper.
The building will incorporate numerous bronze-framed glass “lenses” positioned between the pavilions that frame views onto the Princeton campus and anchor the experience of the Museum in its singular academic location while also affording numerous glimpses into the Museum. Outdoor terraces that can accommodate up to 2,000 users and a rooftop terrace adjoining the café will serve University and community audiences.
In keeping with Princeton University’s Sustainability Action Plan, the new Museum building will reduce greenhouse gas emissions through minimal south-facing glazing, a high-performance exterior envelope, high-performance mechanical systems, efficient lighting and controls, the conversion of utilities from steam to hot water and heavy timber carbon offset. Following these same policies, 85% or more of the material being removed from the site is being recycled or reused.
Working closely with Adjaye Associates, James Corner Field Operations has developed the landscape design for the complex site, preserving the nearby historically important Prospect Garden, as well as the mature canopy of elms and beeches along McCosh Walk, on the north edge of the site. A number of historically important or specimen trees are being preserved — including a 100-year-old dawn redwood — while other rare trees have been relocated to different locations on the Princeton campus. Those trees that had to be felled will be repurposed by regional artisans into furniture or household furnishings that will be sold through the Museum Store. The landscape features native species and drought-resistant plantings for year-round interest.
With demolition expected to be complete this month, concrete foundations to be poured starting this month and construction continuing into early 2024, the Museum has undertaken a number of strategies to maintain its scholarly and public impact during the years of disruption. It is operating two gallery spaces in downtown Princeton within walking distance of the campus: Art@Bainbridge, a project space privileging installation work by emerging and early-career artists in an historic Revolutionary-era building, and Art on Hulfish, a larger gallery space of a more industrial character. Two outdoor exhibitions are also planned, beginning with the video work of the artist Doug Aitken. In addition, the Museum will be touring four exhibitions to museums across the United States and Mexico while construction is carried out.
About the Princeton University Art Museum
With a collecting history that extends back to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, with collections that have grown to include more than 112,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe. Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world.
The Museum’s main building is currently closed for the construction of a bold and welcoming new building, designed by Sir David Adjaye and slated to open in late 2024.
Art@Bainbridge is located at 158 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. Admission is free. Art@Bainbridge hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Art on Hulfish, located at 11 Hulfish Street in Palmer Square, is open daily. Admission is free.
Please visit the Museum’s website for digital access to the collections, a diverse portfolio of virtual programs and updates on opportunities to visit in person. The Museum Store in Palmer Square, located at 56 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton, is open daily, or shop online at princetonmuseumstore.org.
More information: artmuseum.princeton.edu
About Adjaye Associates
Since establishing Adjaye Associates in 2000, Sir David Adjaye OBE has crafted a global team, including studios in Accra, London and New York, with work spanning the globe. Adjaye Associates’ most well-known commission to date is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), opened in 2016 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and named “Cultural Event of the Year” by the New York Times. Other completed works include the Aïshti Foundation Arts and Shopping Complex in Beirut, Lebanon; the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver in Colorado; and the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway.
Today the portfolio continues to evolve with major cultural and civic projects, including the Africa Institute in Sharjah, UAE; the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) in Benin City, Nigeria; the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library in Johannesburg, South Africa; a new home for the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra; and the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in London.
Adjaye won the 2021 RIBA Royal Gold Medal, considered one of the highest honors in architecture for significant contributions to the field internationally.
More information: adjaye.com
About Cooper Robertson
Cooper Robertson is a leading architecture firm with a diverse body of work. The firm is recognized nationally for design excellence with over 100 major awards for projects that integrate architecture and urban design at many scales, from buildings to public spaces to cities. Cooper Robertson is acknowledged as among the foremost museum planning and design firms in the country. The cultural practice is headed by Bruce Davis, AIA; Erin Flynn, RA; and Scott Newman, FAIA, who have led an international field of over 50 museums through their reinvention and expansion, resulting in spaces that support the highest standards for the display and preservation of the world’s most distinguished collections, and some of the world’s best museum architecture. The firm’s portfolio includes projects for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Yale Center for British Art, Monticello, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Gateway Arch Museum in St. Louis.
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