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This article was prepared for the April 30, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Between the Lines
Architects, who have always thought of themselves as
having the media appeal of celebrities and rock stars, drew even more
attention in the 9/11 era when they competed for the right to design
new buildings at Ground Zero. Rafael Vinoly, designer of the Icahn
laboratory that is the subject of the cover story on page 43, was
the first runner up in that competition.
Along with SAT scores, Rhodes scholarships, and Nobel Prize winners,
eye-popping name-brand architecture is one of the ways in which universities
compete. Next to be built is Frank Gehry’s design for Princeton University’s
An intriguing biographical footnote is the connection between Gehry,
the Lewis-Sigler Institute that is housed in the new laboratory, and
its director. Peter Lewis, the major donor to the Institute, is a
patron of Gehry and a trustee of Princeton University. His additional
donation of $60 million made it possible to commission Gehry for the
library. Also, Gehry’s model for Lewis’s never-built house was installed
in the atrium of the Icahn building (see the top and middle pictures
on the cover).
To complete this circle, the institute’s director is David Botstein,
brother of Bard College president Leon Botstein, who is also a Gehry
fan. Gehry’s design for the Bard College performing arts center opens
to the public this weekend.
Famous designers don’t come cheaply. The Icahn Laboratory cost a whopping
$500 per square foot, though much of that cost was admittedly due
to double engineering — making the space adaptable to future needs.
But we also remember that Edward Tenner, the historian and author
of such books as "Why Things Bite Back," talks about the "Edifice
Complex," about what happens when organizations erect huge buildings
as monuments to themselves and then get stuck with too much space.
Case in point: the signature building for PA Technology on Route 571,
the one with the odd exterior superstructure. The party line then
sounds somewhat like what is being said about the Icahn Lab now. Because
there were no load-bearing interior walls, specialists were supposed
to be able to interact and hatch great ideas. When the winds of commerce
changed, the company downsized to several dozen people and moved to
Academe is different, you can say. The Icahn building will always
be useful for education and research. But will it meet the world’s
expectations? On the webpage for the Lewis-Sigler Institute, the university
says that Institute scientists will concentrate on basic science,
not specific diseases. Yet the world hopes — and this hope was
put it into words by Shirley Tilghman, University president —
that scientists in this building will discover the cause or cure for
The possibility that the Next Great Discovery is just around the corner
— not the two-story atrium — is the real drama behind the
building’s opening on May 8.
OUR STORY on Michael Graves misplaced the location of one of his early
architectural triumphs. It is in Portland, Oregon.
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