‘Princeton inspired me to think in ways that have guided me throughout my life,” says eBay founder, president, and chief executive officer Meg Whitman, Class of 1977. “I’m pleased that my gift will have a lasting impact on Princeton students for generations to come.”

The university plans to mark the opening of Whitman College with a public lecture by design architect Demetri Porphyrios titled “Tradition and Modernity: The Making of Whitman College” at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 26 in McCosh 50. The talk is free and open to the public.

At a cost of $136 million ($30 million from the Whitman family) and constructed to complement the Collegiate Gothic style of dormitories on the west end of campus, the 250,000 square foot Whitman College is the university’s sixth residential college but the first to be built as a single project.

The completion of Whitman launches Princeton’s four-year residential college system.In the 25-year-old system of two-year residential colleges, juniors left behind the close-knit academic and recreational life offered in the colleges to move to upperclass housing. Juniors and seniors now have the opportunity to maintain close ties to their colleges throughout all four years of their Princeton careers.

“All architecture is a commentary that gives continuity and relevance to the culture of our towns and cities,” says Porphyrios, who has built buildings at Oxford and Cambridge. Whitman College is built in the Collegiate Gothic style, which was introduced in America in the 20th century, but, says Porphyrios, “is not meant to remind us of that century but of the educational values and aspirations of collegiate academic life.” Collegiate Gothic frist came to the Princeton campus in 1896, when Princeton’s leaders celebrating the school’s 150th anniversary sought inspiration for their buildings from colleges in England known for academic excellence.

One of the many interesting aspects of the college is the architect’s choice of building materials, including the extensive use of stone. “Stone conjures up a feeling of permanence which is how we view (or should view) our education institutions,” says Porphyrios. “Stone has also a great thermal mass and an almost zero carbon footprint. As such, stone is environmentally one of the most sustainable building amterials. In that sense, stone is the most “high-tech” building material today. I have always found stone more beautiful than concrete or plastics on account of its texture, color variation, the way it breathes, and the patina it accumulates over time.”

Porphyrios was meticulous about the stonemasons hired for the job. Fewer than one in three stonemasons who applied was selected because of the quality of the work required. The architects and contractors established a long list of guidelines for setting the stone, including rules for how the five types of stone could be stacked by size and color, limits to the protrusion of the face of the stone to no more than one inch, and limitations on installing wavy and rippled stones

“Every day the stone masons would be required to take a step to the right because each person had his own signature style for setting the stone,” says John Ziegler, assistant to the vice president for facilities and the project director for Whitman College. “By moving them a step to the right every day, we made sure they didn’t own a vertical strip of the building. That helped us weave their individual styles into the overall pattern of the building.”

At the peak of the project, almost 80 stone masons were supported by 70 additional laborers while they worked with more than 6,000 tons of stone. The university set up a stone blending operation in West Windsor to mix five types of fieldstone.

“In the Western economies, the initial construction cost of a masonry wall may be 10 to 15 percent higher than that of an industrially prefabricated building envelope,” says Porphyrios. “The prefabircated envelope, however, will fail and must be replaced in 15 to 20 years whereas the stone masonry wall will have a life of 300 years and upwards.”

Tradition and Modernity: The Making of Whitman College, Thursday, September 26, 4:30 p.m., Princeton University, McCosh 50. A lecture by Demetri Porphyrios, architect of Whitman College, Princeton’s newest residential college. Free and open to the public.

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