Princeton Humanities Center Case Study

1Schwartz/Silver was engaged to develop an integrated Humanities Center at Princeton, in two of the university’s earliest examples of gothic revival architecture: Chancellor Green and East Pyne. The two buildings, completed in 1873 and 1897 by the architect William Potter, had served as Princeton’s library for 50 years. In 1948, the Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library opened next door, and Chancellor Green and East Pyne were converted to office uses. After another 50 years, the decision was made to convert  the buildings into the Humanities Center, comprising departments in cultural and language studies, comparative literature and linguistics. The architectural challenge was to significantly enlarge the buildings, and create important new entrances to the Center from the surrounding campus, while preserving their landmark historic character.

2Lower Floor Before and After: As originally constructed, large parts of the lowest level of East Pyne were unexcavated, shown in dark grey in the upper plan. The floor was divided into a series of disconnected areas.  By undertaking major excavations within this level, a new circulation pattern was established. The Chancellor Green café, to the left above, received an entrance off a new Humanities Courtyard, and an east-west circulation route was created.  New program spaces were located under the courtyard, including a small auditorium, and Language Resource Center.  Regrading on the west, to the right in the plan above, allowed office uses to have windows onto a grassy slope.

3Excavation of the central courtyard was a major undertaking, its appropriateness justified only after it was demonstrated that it was no more expensive than constructing a new building addition above grade. Since the floor of the new space was below the level of the footings holding up the historic building, the existing walls had to be underpinned – held up by temporary structures while new foundations were installed at a lower level. Once that was complete, excavators could be brought in to remove soil.

4Like many nineteenth century libraries, East Pyne was built without integrated structural floors. Walkways for librarians were installed as part of the library stacks, which rose the full height of the building. In 1948, when the building was converted for office uses, steel floor framing was added, but in the north wing of the building the floor elevations did not align with neighboring floors in order to accommodate a cafeteria above the unexcavated basement level. To eliminate this misalignment, the 1948 structure was removed and replaced with new steel to create consistent floor levels throughout the building. Once that was accomplished, the lower level was dug out.

5A major feature of the original gothic revival structures was their leaded glass windows. After a century of exposure, many windows were leaking or damaged. The original lead “cames,” which held the individual panes of glass in place, were sagging. Lead has little strength and is very soft and malleable, so a continuing stress of even relatively small proportions will give rise to continuing creep. All of the building windows were removed for restoration. Within the shop, each piece of glass was dismantled and cleaned, broken pieces replaced with similarly colored and textured hand-made glass, and new lead cames soldered into place. The restored windows were then reinstalled.

6First Floor Before and After: When East Pyne was built in 1897, access was by the four fire stairs, and through the “hyphen” connection to Chancellor Green. The central courtyard allowed north-south passage, but had no entrances. The new circulation pattern created major entrances from the courtyard, while the fire stairs became secondary means of access and egress. Elevators located within the new lobbies provided handicapped access to all levels. Entrances into the octagonal Chancellor Green were reopened, after having been closed for 50 years.

7The restored courtyard of East Pyne, part of an established circulation path across campus, is now also a major access point to the Andlinger Center for the Humanities. The large leaded glass doors, on the right in the photo, lead to one of the two new lobbies. At the corners of the courtyard, stone benches conceal large areaways that deliver light into the lower level spaces. The rehabilitated and significantly enlarged building was awarded the Preservation Honor Award of the Historical Society of Princeton.