July 7, 2021

Suggesting a Plan B Alternative to University’s Prospect Avenue Plan

To the Editor:

Princeton University’s massive (666,000 square feet in four new buildings) expansion of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is exciting for the future of teaching, research, and studying at Princeton. This project has been in the works for more than a decade and finally has emerged into public view as a packaged deal, much like the Lewis Center across campus.

The process now moves to the town of Princeton’s Planning Board to review and approve or reject the Plan. While the concept and plan are admirable, there should be room to improve the Plan with comments from the neighbors, alumni, and other interested parties.

I would like to suggest a Plan B.

First, moving (or tearing down if Plan is not approved) Court Club, which is located within a National Registered Landmark District, seems an offense to the town of Princeton. We should respect our National Landmarks and make an effort to preserve our fortunate heritage. Environmental studies teach us to recycle, reuse, or repurpose objects whenever possible so as not to waste resources. Court Club would make an ideal setting for small conferences, intimate dining opportunities, or prime seminar space for focused group conversation. Think a second “Faculty Club,” an annex to Prospect House.

Second, the attempt by the architects of the proposed Plan to extend an arm toward the existing Engineering Quad fails as there is no real connection either to the existing Andlinger Center or to the existing EQuad. The use of the term “neighborhood” is deceptive in the extreme. Think of the “Arts and Transit Neighborhood,” the terminology used to sell moving the Dinky, leaving McCarter as a stand-alone up the hill.

And finally, quadrangles have been an architectural solution for educational institutions for generations – think Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, and in the old days’ Princeton University. Taking the proposed Chemical and Biological Engineering building and forming a quadrangle with the other proposed buildings and to incorporate the stand alone “Commons” building seems a far better design to me. The existing proposal seems more like the Great Wall in China, which is for defense rather than inviting collegiality.

But redesign is not the job of the Planning Board. They may not be able to consider a Plan B without rejecting the University’s application. I recommend that the Planning Board, therefore, turn down the proposed Plan and point the University architects toward the possibility of discussing reasonable alternatives. I understand that Princeton Future has offered to host such a review. That seems to me a viable path forward.

Michael Mathews ’62
Bedens Brook Road, Skillman