Design for New Princeton University Art Museum Revealed

The Princeton University Art Museum has revealed the design for its new building, embodying flexibility, openness and connectivity to break down barriers to participation and invite entry by all. Sir David Adjaye, the design architect and founder of Adjaye Associates, presented the designs with James Steward, the Museum’s Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, director.

The building will replace and roughly double the square footage of the existing facility, which occupies a central location on Princeton’s campus. The design employs a mix of traditional materials – including stone, bronze and glass – that speaks both to the present moment and the historic Princeton context. Construction is slated to begin in 2021 with an anticipated opening in late 2024. 

“Sir David’s architecture will invite visitors to see themselves as citizens of a broader set of communities,” notes Steward, “which in turn will, we hope, nurture a deeper sense of our shared humanity. The design will give us a building that fosters new modes of investigation, reflects and deepens our commitment to equity and inclusion and affords new moments of aspiration and inspiration.”

At a time of national self-reflection for both museums and universities, the design embodies the Museum’s long-standing commitment to serve as a hub and a gathering place, a nexus for the arts and humanities – a metaphor for the college campus at its best – that affords encounters with cultures past and present from around the world and seeks to foster stronger citizenship among its University, local and global communities. The new building design overcomes multiple historic barriers to participation, making the visual arts an essential part of the University experience for all Princeton students and an accessible home of democratic engagement for community members and visitors.

“The reconstruction of the Princeton University Art Museum is conceived as a campus within the campus,” said Adjaye, “a space of genuine inquiry where the exhibition of diverse practices, learning as a synthesis of knowledge and cross-cultural connections weave together into a singular experience that encompasses a multiplicity of ideas and peoples.”

The double-height Grand Hall sits at the heart of the Museum complex and will function as a lecture hall and performance space and will host many of the Museum’s larger events. © Adjaye Associates

The new Museum will occupy three stories, featuring seven primary interlocked pavilions containing many of the building’s new galleries, interspersed with more intimate spaces that break down the scale of the whole while knitting the elements of the new building into the campus landscape. The exterior of the building is characterized by alternating rough and polished stone surfaces inspired by the rich history of the surrounding environment.

With a pulsating rhythm that responds to the delicate forms of nearby buildings and with the “push-pull” of its undulating facades, the new facility will welcome visitors from all directions through a design that strives to be “all fronts and no backs.”

The design of the new building allows the Museum’s globe-spanning collections to be exhibited substantially on a single level, shaping new ways of encountering the collections, privileging ideas of cultural contact and exchange and fostering new modes of storytelling. By challenging the traditional hierarchies inherent in multilevel gallery display, the Museum will foster moments of discovery and surprise as visitors encounter ideas and objects in ways that move beyond the boundaries of geography and chronology. This approach brings architecture and curatorial practice together in a manner that is rare among major cultural institutions. Galleries will alternate in volume to accommodate the Museum’s richly varied collections and to combat visitor fatigue, while elements of visible storage will feature significantly throughout the Museum building, allowing curators to vary the density of display and create moments ideally suited for scholars as well as for general visitors.

Numerous bronze and glass “lenses” are positioned between the pavilions to break up the scale of the complex and to shape framed glimpses into the Museum and extraordinary vistas out onto the beautiful Princeton campus. The design includes outdoor terraces that diminish borders between indoors and out, including spaces for performances and events that can accommodate 200 to 2,000 users.

A Grand Hall for lectures, performances and events; numerous classroom spaces and two “creativity labs”; and a rooftop café will serve University audiences, adults and K to 12 students.

As an investment in the architecture of our time, the new building will join nearly 30 architectural styles reflected on Princeton’s campus. The design inserts itself dynamically into campus life by maintaining key pedestrian pathways that flow into and through the Museum via two “art walks” – thoroughfares that function as the new building’s circulatory spine.

At the ground level, permeability and accessibility are prioritized while affording tantalizing and uplifting glimpses into the galleries, most of which will be located on the building’s second level, even during times of day when the galleries might be closed. The decision to build the new Museum at the historic site of the current facility intentionally positions the Museum at the physical heart of the campus, and keeps it physically adjacent to the University’s Department of Art and Archaeology and to Marquand Library, as an important research center for the humanities.

“The brilliant design for the new Princeton University Art Museum meaningfully achieves our goals of placing art at the core of the campus experience, strengthening the University’s mission of teaching and research and serving as a welcoming gateway for all visitors to this storied campus,” said Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber.

About the Princeton University Art Museum

With origins dating to 1755, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the world’s leading university art museums, with collections of more than 110,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary and spanning the globe. Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum is intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, offering a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture.

About Adjaye Associates

Since establishing Adjaye Associates in 2000, Sir David Adjaye has crafted a multicultural global team stimulated by the broadest possible cultural discourse. The practice has studios in Accra, London and New York and has completed work in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East.

Adjaye Associates’ largest commission to date, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), opened in 2016 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Further projects range in scale from private houses, bespoke furniture collections, product design, exhibitions and temporary pavilions to major arts centers, civic buildings and master plans.

In addition to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, completed works include Ruby City, a new art center in San Antonio, Texas; the Sugar Hill Mixed-Use Development in Harlem, New York; two neighborhood libraries in Washington, DC; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado; and the Idea Stores – two community libraries in London.

Ongoing projects include a new home for the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; 130 William, a high-rise residential tower in New York’s financial district; the new Sydney Plaza, a public plaza, community building and artwork in Sydney’s Central Business District; The Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi; the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in London; and the National Cathedral of Ghana in Accra.

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