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Architect Points to Global Growth as Need for Smart Growth Locally

Matthew Hersh

Monolithic skyscrapers growing out of the sandy dunes in Dubai might seem a world apart from building senior housing in the rocky terrain of the Princeton Ridge, but when looking at development growth from a global perspective, it’s all a matter of perspective, said architect J. Robert Hillier Monday at Princeton’s All Saints Church.

Mr. Hillier’s talk, which was hosted by the Princeton Women’s College Club, was offered just a short distance from where the architect has proposed a design for 158-unit senior housing facility off Bunn Drive. The proposal has garnered significant opposition, but the manner that it’s being proposed, Mr. Hillier made his case that in times of major anticipated population growth, Princeton will have to begin to think about development in creative ways.

“Princeton is suffering from urban problems. It has a whole bunch of issues that every city in the nation is facing,” he said. Mr. Hillier, a Town Topics shareholder who heads up the West Windsor-based RMJM Hillier, described a scenario where people are beginning to flock to more urban environments. “The coasts,” Mr. Hillier said, “are expected to grow no less than 15 percent and as much as 100 percent in terms of population growth between now and the year 2050.” He added that Princeton, Mercer County, and New Jersey could see as much as 50 percent growth by that time.

Mr. Hillier framed his talk, particularly the topic of building in condensed environs, around the explosion of development taking place in the Middle East and Asia. Specifically, the architect pointed to Dubai as a city that was once desert, but is now a sprawling landscape of innovative buildings, built in no real context —  an important component in densely populated sections of the U.S. when figuring in Mr. Hillier’s estimation that by 2040, global building will be double what exists today.

In places like Dubai and Shanghai, “It’s the Wild West,” he said, characterizing the growth there as “dumb growth.”

In Princeton, which Mr. Hillier described as the “best little city in the world,” people are finding the central Jersey locale attractive because of its urban amenities, like good restaurants, theater, culture, and industry.

Demand for new buildings, including the Hillier senior housing proposal for the Ridge, have to be designed in tune with the needs of the community. While advocates for Ridge preservation have argued that no development would be the best solution there, Mr. Hillier said that his concept, replete with sod roofs and the possibility of geothermal energy infrastructure, would respond to the forecasted increase in housing demands in New Jersey. “There are large swaths of land being developed everywhere, but here, you have to be more careful,” he said.

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