Corrections or additions?

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

science library.

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

Enterprise Drive.

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

cancer.

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.

Correction

OUR STORY on Michael Graves misplaced the location of one of his early

architectural triumphs. It is in Portland, Oregon.

Corrections or additions?


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