To the Editor: More Views Needed Of ‘Starchitecture’

In response to Kathleen McGinn Spring’s article “On the campus: from Ivy to Star-chitects,” I was disappointed that, despite having all members of the 1969 reunion group pile on the criticism for Princeton University’s questionable architecture choices, she never once speaks (or alludes to having tried to speak, only to be shot down) to anyone who may have been a part of the decision-making process.

Whether it would have been asking the president of the university whether Princeton had learned from mistakes of constructing shoddy buildings that would be obsolete over the next 40 years, whether they thought the new constructions followed that sad trend, or why some felt that what was being built was little more than hunting for starchitectural names that would increase Princeton’s worldwide renown (which, like one of the people quoted correctly indicates, seems silly since, after all, it is Princeton. Everyone knows it already).

Had an attempt been made to give the university a rebuttal against the barrage of criticism from those interviewed about the design choices, this piece would have felt more fair without taking any of the fire out of what the critics were saying. The pictures speak for themselves: Frank Gehry’s monstrosity, every time I drive past, reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where, in a case of self-parody, an animated rendition of the famous designer (voiced by himself, no less) crumples up a piece of paper, stares at it, and decides that will be what his next building will look like. Funny, but his designs really do look like that.

As it was, it felt like Ms. Spring’s mind was clearly made up about this subject well before she wrote her first sentence, and she was going to present only her own personal opinion about the matter to U.S. 1’s readers, come hell or high water. We all have opinions, but as writers, we are supposed to let the readers have their own first before we try to shove ours down their throats.

John Dunphy

The writer is managing editor of the the Lawrence Ledger community newspaper.

U.S. 1’s editor responds: I agree: Two sides of a story are almost always better than one. In this case our reporting actually began with the university’s side, tied to a Reunions lecture being offered by the official university architect. That story, starting on the same two-page spread as Spring’s article, gave an overview of Princeton’s architectural history.

And it also prompted me to recall the reunion of my college classmates, the architects from the Class of 1969. At the last minute I asked Spring to get the other side — their view of campus architecture, and they gave her a boatload. By the time that reporting was completed, our deadline was upon us. If we had had time, pursuing the questions raised by Dunphy would have been a smart thing to do. The university, or other architectural critics, are still welcome to respond to the issues raised by the alumni. We hope they do.

As for Spring injecting her own opinion into the piece, writers of feature articles in U.S. 1 are encouraged to express their opinions if they are presented openly and fairly. But in this instance, Kathy Spring offered no opinion other than those of the alumni architects. And, despite the implication made by Dunphy in his letter, the opinions were not all negative. In fact, most of the Class of ‘69 architects had kind words for the new Whitman College.

We hope to revisit the subject when Whitman and the Gehry building are completed.

One more thing: Over the Reunions weekend, I attended an event on the top floor of Fine Hall, the 13-story building overlooking the Gehry building. It was a wonderful vantage point for viewing the Reunions fireworks.

But at ground level, the stark plaza and the dilapidated condition of Fine Hall made me feel like I was back in a failed urban renewal project in my hometown of Binghamton, New York. Princeton can — and I am confident will — do better than it has done so far on this corner of campus.

— Richard K. Rein


Regarding the photograph of the Maya temple published on May 23 in connection with an article on Hugh and Suzanne Johnston: It was a scale model at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The author of the article “Behind the Scenes at NJAWBO” in the May 30 issue was Michele Alperin.

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