November 23, 2022

Rubenstein Commons Opens at IAS, “Forum for Curiosity, Discovery, Critique”

GATHERING PLACE: The Rubenstein Commons at the Institute for Advanced Study has opened its doors, promoting contemplation, communication, and collaboration among Institute members and visitors. (Photo by Paul Warchol)

By Donald Gilpin

Described by Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) Director David Nirenberg as “a place whose beauty will stimulate contemplation and whose space will invite the dialogue necessary for questioning at its most profound,” the new Rubenstein Commons building has opened its doors for IAS members and visitors.

Made possible through a gift from businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, the building  is designed to have “a transformative impact on intellectual and communal life at IAS,” according to a November 15 IAS press release, and to provide “flexible gathering spaces to support enhanced communication and collaboration among scholars,” and “an inviting social hub for the wider IAS community.”

Noting the building’s “pools, roof gardens, and rooms dancing with light,” Nirenberg, who is a medievalist and intellectual historian and the Leon Levy Professor at IAS, stated, “With the opening of this forum for curiosity, discovery, and critique, we celebrate the Institute’s enduring commitment to the nourishment of the global collective intellect.”

The 17,175-square-foot building, designed by Steven Holl Architects, contains meeting rooms, an indoor/outdoor cafe, a living room, offices, and a gallery of campus history from Einstein to today. It is located near the Institute’s flagship Fuld Hall, where Einstein and others have thought, met, and exchanged ideas since the early days of the IAS’s 92-year history.

Blackboards of natural slate, a tradition for intellectual exchange at the IAS, line the interiors, while prismatic glass breaks white light into the spectrum, illuminating the interior with natural light and color.

At the March 14, 2018 groundbreaking for the Commons, Rubenstein, who is co-founder and co-chairman of the Carlyle Group and an IAS trustee, stated, “by having the ability to come together, the great human brain can be improved because all brains, all humans benefit from talking to others. What the Commons is designed to do is to bring people together who are the great brains of our society, and have them interact; and also, people who visit can meet with scholars. So that’s really what it’s designed to do.”

Intended as a building “with long-term architectural significance,” integrated with the surrounding landscape and campus, the Rubenstein Commons will serve as a gathering place for Institute scholars from the four IAS schools of historical studies, mathematics, natural sciences, and social science.

Each year the IAS welcomes more than 200 of the world’s most promising post-doctoral researchers and scholars, who are selected and mentored by a permanent faculty of  leaders in their fields. Present and past faculty and members have included 35 Nobel laureates as well as many Fields Medal winners, MacArthur Fellows, and Abel and Wolf prize winners.

This year’s scholarly community comes from 36 countries and more than 100 academic institutions from around the world. A recent IAS press release noted the most recent faculty appointments of Bhargav Bhatt, one of the leading figures of the recent revolution in p-adic geometry, as well as Wei Ho, a visiting professor and the first director of Women and Mathematics, a program recruiting and retaining women in mathematics and supporting female scholars at various stages of their careers.

Other scholars joining IAS this year include Historical Studies Member Verena Krebs, whose research concerns transcultural medieval and pre-modern African and global history and who looks to “push people to re-think the importance of African polities in a larger pre-modern world”; and Mathematics Member D. Dominique Kemp, who is pursuing the study of harmonics, including waves and tides.

Sophie Lund Schroder has joined the IAS School of Natural Sciences, as she continues her work on binary stars, pairs of stars that orbit each other in ways  similar to the way the moon orbits Earth. School of Social Science member K-Sue Park  is examining how colonization and enslavement have shaped today’s legal institutions and practices, and will be working at IAS on her forthcoming book about the history of the land system and how it produced a radicalized society in the United States.

In 2015, when he made his initial $20 million gift for the new building, Rubenstein emphasized the value of IAS as “a beacon for pure, unrestricted research,” and commented on the importance of the new Rubenstein Commons.

“This new building is essential for the Institute to continue to provide a complete and rewarding experience for scholars from around the world who are investigating some of the most intriguing questions across sciences and humanities,” he said. “I am confident that this addition to the campus will be beneficial and energizing, and will result in highly productive visits for future Institute scholars.”