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Vol. LXII, No. 39
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
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Arts and Transit Designs Unveiled

Dilshanie Perera

“We believe exposure to the arts is vital,” said architect Steven Holl, citing poet Paul Muldoon in describing the intent behind his designs of the Lewis Center for the Arts during last Wednesday’s open house for Princeton University’s proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood. The event was held in the new Paul Robeson Center for the Arts.

Aimed at the area located just south of the McCarter and Berlind Theaters, the Arts and Transit Neighborhood proposal plans to move the Dinky station 460 feet farther from town while incorporating it into a “21st century transit hub.” A number of arts amenities, including the Holl-designed Lewis Center, will be on the site, and the plans include the building footprints of a future satellite of the Princeton University Art Museum, which will house contemporary art as well as an experimental media studio.

“The arts and cultural landscape is already where campus and community intersect,” remarked University spokesperson Cass Cliatt. Neil Kittredge, a partner at Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners, echoed her, making it clear that the University does not see the Arts and Transit Neighborhood as “an extension of the internalized setting of the campus,” but rather as “a gathering place and a crossroads.”

Seeing the space, which lies at the intersection of University Place and Alexander Road, as another “gateway into town,” Mr. Kittredge advocated thinking about the neighborhood as a new town square for Princeton, “analogous to Palmer Square and Hinds Plaza.”

The Arts and Transit Neighborhood is part of the University’s 10-year Campus Plan, and an initiative set forth by President Shirley Tilghman to enhance the life of the arts at the University. The open house showcased a scale model of the entire site, building plans and maps, and information about traffic in the area, and the environmental savvy of the Lewis Center. Members of the University, and architectural and planning teams were on hand to answer questions.

Though the Lewis Center for the Arts is still in its “concept design phase,” according to Noah Yaffe of Steven Holl Architects, the building is looking to “maximize the visibility of creative life.” It is designed so that passersby can catch glimpses of the process of art-making, since transparency and the Holl-coined phrase “maximum porosity” are key guiding principles of the architecture.

The family of buildings that comprise the Lewis Center will house theater and performance spaces, gallery spaces, classrooms, studios, and other amenities geared toward the visual and performing arts. The split-level structure will bring together the different spaces comprising the Center via an atrium that will have a reflecting pool as its ceiling to bring in natural light. Topside, the 89 by 89 foot pool will contain water (or ice) year-round. “There is something emotional about the possibility of that rectangle of water,” Mr. Holl said of the choice.

The Lewis Center will also be one of the greenest buildings on campus. Even beyond an arts space, Mr. Yaffe envisions it as a “teaching tool regarding how to do sustainable architecture in this day and age.” The building will incorporate a stormwater recycling system, geothermal heating and cooling, a green roof, solar array panels, and other features of energy-efficient design. In keeping with the University’s Sustainability Plan, the building will use 50 percent less energy than required by code.

Surrounds and Transit Hub

During the presentation section of the open house, Mr. Kittredge elaborated on the overall design of the Arts and Transit Neighborhood. With the incorporation of new retail and restaurant amenities, a transit complex including the Dinky, the various arts spaces, and new methods to alleviate traffic congestion, the area will see many changes.

The proposed Dinky complex, which will be south of its current location, combines the Wawa with the station, has an international news stand, and a bike center that includes covered bicycle parking and a bike shop. It is designed to accommodate the 605 bus, jitney, and any future bus rapid transit system. Mr. Kittredge describes the transit hub as “purposely designed” to meet present transportation needs.

As for traffic, the intersection of Alexander and University is known for congestion. At peak times, approximately 1,500 cars use the roads, reported Mr. Kittredge, who added that since pedestrians and bikes must cross the street in the same place, that increases the current backup.

The proposed plan for the Neighborhood places a roundabout on Alexander Road to create the “smooth and continuous movement of cars,” while a separate traffic light will allow commuters to get into the transportation center.

Community Reaction

Moving the Dinky from its present location seemed to be the largest point of contention during the public question-and-answer period of the open house. Calling the Arts and Transit Neighborhood a “development that’s happening to the community, not for the community,” Borough Council member Andrew Koontz expressed disapproval regarding moving the Dinky, and called for elected officials to take a closer look at the traffic data.

A spokesperson from Princeton Theological Seminary noted that the project would enhance the life of the members of that community, while other residents of the Borough and Township expressed concern and disappointment regarding the Dinky’s proposed shift south.

“Four hundred and sixty feet is not inconsiderable for senior citizens,” was heard amid murmurs of approval.

For the project to happen, the land must be rezoned to accommodate its proposed new uses. At the last Regional Planning Board Master Plan Subcommittee meeting held on September 10, the Board discussed the overall traffic impact of the University’s 10-year Campus Plan and architect and Borough Council member Kevin Wilkes proposed alternative plans to the Arts and Transit Neighborhood which would maintain the current location of the Dinky.

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