Zaha Hadid isn’t the only one who has just secured a plum university commission. Princeton University announced today the selection of Steven Holl Architects to design the initial academic buildings for the university’s new “arts and transit neighborhood,” which sounds suspiciously like a Weebles play set we had as a child.
Holl’s firm, perhaps best known for its recent expansion and renovation of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City (the one everyone likes to photograph at dusk), will be responsible for designing several buildings to house Princeton’s theater and dance programs, parts of the music department, the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the Society of Fellows in the Creative and Performing Arts. That’s a whopping 135,000 square feet.
One of our favorite poets/wordsmiths, Paul Muldoon, chair of Princeton’s Lewis Center, is rather excited about the prospect of working with the firm, calling Holl “an architect of the first water,” and then going in for the zinger: “I use the term ‘first water’ advisedly, because Steven Holl has designed everything from the Whitney Water Purification Facility and Park in southern Connecticut to the Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle” (pictured above).
Holl sees Muldoon’s wordplay (with a shout-out to “social condensation”) and then raises him a Walter Benjamin reference:
Princeton University’s campus environment presents unique challenges and opportunities for architecture to act as a social condenser. Unforeseen potential experiments by students and faculty for creative and performing arts might take place out of doors, partially on balconies or roofs as described in a passage on Naples by Walter Benjamin: “Porosity results from the passion for improvisation, which demands that space and opportunity be at any price preserved.”