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CURRENT ISSUES

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY'S

PROPOSED ARTS NEIGHBORHOOD

 

Proposed expansion along Alexander Street south of the Mercer Hill Historic District 

 


Image courtesy of Princeton University's Office of Community and Regional Affairs

KEY:
   1. Existing Dinky station will be renovated and converted to retail use.
    2. Development area.
    3. New on-street parallel parking.
    4. New public piazza designed by Renzo Piano to evoke the public squares of his native Italy. The piazza will be a focal point of the neighborhood.
    5. Development area.
    6. New Dinky station will be about 500 feet south of the current track terminus.
    7. Proposed Dinky drop-off for local commuters.
    8. Proposed extended University Place will connect to Alexander Road further south, improving traffic flow and pedestrian safety.
    9. New Dinky commuter lot replaces the parking lot destroyed to make way for new construction.

 

DAILYPRINCETONIAN.COM
Tuesday, September 19, 2006

CAMPUS PLANNING
Plans for arts neighborhood take shape


For the first time since 1918, the Dinky station will be heading south.

    The catalyst for its relocation is the development of a creative and performing arts "neighborhood" along Alexander Street, a far-reaching initiative that will create a center of academics, entertainment and retail on the Borough-Township border. Billionaire philanthropist Peter Lewis '55 has already pledged $101 million for the project.

    "We don't know the full price tag yet, but it will be at least three times that  something in excess of $300 million," University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee '69 said.

    The University announced in April that the global architecture firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop will design the complex. The center is expected to comprise several low-rise structures with a total area of about 250,000 sq. ft., Durkee said.

    A broad "piazza" will create a bustling focal point of pedestrian activity amid the new buildings. Renzo Piano, founder of the firm that bears his name, intends for the piazza to evoke the public squares of his native Italy, Durkee said.

Roads, railway to be reconfigured

    "We're trying to create almost a village for the arts in a highly constrained space," Durkee said.

    Meeting this challenge will allow the University to implement two ideas it has contemplated for years: extending University Place, the road that runs from Nassau Street to the Wawa convenience store, and moving the Dinky station south.

    Heavy traffic on University Place, which currently makes a sharp turn onto Alexander Street across from Forbes College, creates a dangerous situation for pedestrians, University Architect Jon Hlafter GS '63 said.

    "One solution is straightening out University Place so that it continues more or less parallel with the railroad tracks, perhaps as far down or farther than the commuter parking lot," Hlafter said.

    A new driveway branching off from University Place and running past New South will provide arts patrons with easy access to the Lot 7 parking garage. The driveway will intersect the current path of the Dinky.

    "To make this whole design work, it's very helpful to move the terminus for the Dinky a little further to the south," Durkee said.

    A new station will be built about 500 feet closer to Princeton Junction along the existing track. This distance translates to an additional "oneor two-minute walk" for riders arriving on campus, Durkee said.

    The existing Dinky station buildings will be used for retail venues, possibly including a cafe. The Wawa convenience store will relocate to another site, and its current home will be demolished.

    Durkee said that in recent years, the University has held several meetings with New Jersey Transit about a potential station move.

    "They've been very supportive," he said. "They need to give us guidance on the construction. There's been no formal outcome of those discussions, but everything to this point suggests they recognize the advantages of doing it."

    From Paris to University Place

    Piano gained prominence in the late 1970s after co-designing the Centre Georges Pompidou, which houses a public library and modern art museum in a historic section of Paris. Some architectural critics attacked the building for its exterior of girders and utility pipes painted in bright colors.

    While Hlafter expects Piano to design "innovative" buildings on the Princeton campus, he noted that "all his buildings are different from each other."

    "Unlike Frank Gehry, whose works tend to have a relationship with each other, in the case of Piano you can't find that kind of consistency."

    Piano stood out among potential architects for his experience in designing buildings for the creative and performing arts, University Executive Vice President Mark Burstein said.

    "He has also done a number of projects through his career that span a large area and multiple buildings  almost building a portion of a town or a city," Burstein added.

    The University hopes that a more lively scene along Alexander Street will transform the unsightly area into "a neighborhood center attractive not only to students but to people attending creative and performing arts events," Hlafter said.

    New restaurants and shops interspersed among the arts facilities will serve the community and students. It is hoped that the development will make students living in Forbes and the Graduate College feel a stronger connection to the campus.

New facilities to meet needs of arts programs

    Perhaps the trickiest part of planning for the arts neighborhood is divvying up the funds and building space among University arts programs.

    Vice Provost Katherine Rohrer said the University has consulted the Art Museum and programs in theater, dance, creative writing and visual arts on their "current needs, the needs they will have when the student body increases and the needs they will have as the initiative in the creative and performing arts broadens and deepens interest on campus."

    Piano's firm has not yet designed any individual buildings for the complex, and even the number of buildings is unknown at this early date.

    Hlafter said there are "many different ideas about how the pieces fit together." Rohrer likewise stressed that nothing is finalized as this point in the planning process.

    Certain programs, however, seem likely to end up as tenants of the new arts neighborhood.

    "The University's highest priority is to relocate the performing arts activities that are currently by Nassau Street to the new arts neighborhood," Hlafter said.

    He said the visual arts program will remain at 185 Nassau St., but the theater and dance offices will move to Alexander Street. Once funds are available, the new location will also feature a full-size performance hall.

    "The other piece of the plan is a satellite facility for the Arts Museum," that would house contemporary works, Durkee said.

    While the new neighborhood will group many arts programs together, other venues such as Richardson Auditorium and the Woolworth Music Building will remain integral to the University's arts community.

    "The faculty task force that worked on the arts initiative strongly recommended what they called 'edge-to-edge deployment' of the arts," Rohrer said. "They envisioned vibrant activity taking place not in one spot but in many spots across campus."

A new neighborhood in town

    The new arts neighborhood, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, will cost over $300 million.
    This conceptual drawing [see above] shows preliminary ideas for the area. Final site plans are expected within a year.

    1. Existing Dinky station will be renovated and converted to retail use.
    2. Development area.
    3. New on-street parallel parking.
    4. New public piazza designed by Renzo Piano to evoke the public squares of his native Italy. The piazza will be a focal point of the neighborhood.
    5. Development area.
    6. New Dinky station will be about 500 feet south of the current track terminus.
    7. Proposed Dinky drop-off for local commuters.
    8. Proposed extended University Place will connect to Alexander Road further south, improving traffic flow and pedestrian safety.
    9. New Dinky commuter lot replaces the parking lot destroyed to make way for new construction.

http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/archives/2006/09/19/news/15839.shtml?type=printable