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Vol. LXV, No. 47
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
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New Jersey’s Best Buildings, Places Celebrated in Architect’s Library Talk

Anne Levin

Princeton rates prominently in a new book that celebrates the architecture of the Garden State. But the recently released AIA New Jersey Guidebook: 150 Best Buildings and Places reaches to all corners of the state and covers a broad range of styles.

“There are a number of Princeton buildings that are included, on campus and about the town,” said the book’s editor and co-author, Bernardsville architect Philip Kennedy-Grant. “It goes from old to new buildings, from ruins to townscapes to landscapes. I suspect there will be questions raised about why this particular thing is in there and that particular thing is not.”

Mr. Kennedy-Grant will be on hand for a talk and book-signing Thursday, December 1 at Princeton Public Library to answer questions about the book, the idea for which came out of a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). “The AIA New Jersey decided to list the 150 best buildings in the state,” he said. “The list was made, and somebody said, ‘This is great. We should make this into a book.’ So a selection was made by members, and then a committee made the final choices.”

Having served for nine years as chairman of the editorial board of the former AIA publication Architecture New Jersey, Mr. Kennedy-Grant was tapped to edit the volume. He co-authored and edited the book with fellow Bernardsville architect Mark Alan Hewitt and Princeton architect Michael Mills. Architect Michael Graves contributed the foreword, along with architect Karen Nichols. The 150 color photographs are by Bernardsville photographer Alexander (Sandy) M. Noble.

The book cites more buildings from prior to 1950 than after, most of which tend to be small in scale. They also lean toward the traditional. “There is not a lot of far-out wonky craziness,” Mr. Kennedy-Grant said. The controversial Lewis Science Library at Princeton University, designed by Frank Gehry, did not make the list. “I’m sure somebody will ask about that,” he added.

New Jersey architecture isn’t necessarily distinctive, according to Mr. Kennedy-Grant. “But I think the entire history of the country can be read in our buildings,” he said. “The surprising thing is that we’re not considered as being the hotbed of anything. But virtually every architectural style has been expressed within our borders.”

In some cases, an acknowledged master’s work was included though it may not have been that architect’s crowning achievement. Frank Lloyd Wright, I.M. Pei, and Michael Graves are all represented in the book. So is Louis Kahn, whose 1955 Trenton Bath House, located in Ewing Township, is considered by some to be pivotal and influential. “There will be people who will say, ‘Why is that concrete block in here?’ It’s the only work he’s got in the state,” said Mr. Kennedy-Grant.

His hope is that the book will inspire questions and, possibly, disagreements. “I don’t have an agenda other than to ask questions and ask people to consider these things,” Mr. Kennedy-Grant said. “The book was not conceived as a polemical or argumentative document. It was a collection, a compendium of what our organization thought were great things. Even those who have lived here a long time are not aware of some of the buildings we’ve shown.”

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