‘Music, like architecture is an immersive experience, it surrounds you,” notes architect Steven Holl in the publication “Designing the Lewis Center for the Arts.”
The new massive university center is a physical manifestation of Holl’s premise and more. Its three interconnected buildings do not just surround, they immerse, and the disciplines extend beyond architecture and music to include programs in music, dance, and theater.
Community members will get to experience it all when the center officially opens on Thursday, October 5, with a four-day festival of the arts representing one of the largest presentations and premieres of new art in Princeton.
Situated on the edge of the campus on Alexander Street at the circle where University Place begins and where McCarter Theater is located, the Lewis Center for the Arts building is part of a 22-acre complex that includes rehearsal and performance spaces to be used by faculty, students, and guest artists; a restaurant and cafe in the former dinky station; a new train station; a convenience store; a landscaped plaza; and green spaces.
The new structure complements the other art facilities at 185 Nassau Street — also called the Lewis Center — and the Woolworth Music building
University architect Ron McCoy calls the $330 million development the largest single project that the university has seen on its main campus.
One of the main architectural features of the complex is the forum: an 8,000-square-foot lobby and gathering space that connects the three buildings and allows passage to the center’s main performance venues, instrumental rehearsal rooms, and a collaborative lab — or CoLab — used for interdisciplinary projects and multimedia presentations.
The forum’s roof is an outdoor plaza with a reflecting pool with skylights illuminating the area with water-filtered sunlight during the day and clear or tinted pool light at night.
Holl calls the space “a quadrangle of space with a gathering forum that connects the different programs below a water landscape.”
During a recent tour, Lewis Center Chair Michael Cadden embraced the uncertainty of the space’s potentials by saying the administration will “know how it will be used five years from now,” learning from the students and faculty who will be using it.
One of the first to experiment with it is music faculty member and composer Jeff Snyder, who is teaming with So Percussion, Princeton Laptop Orchestra, professional lighting designer and the university’s director of theater Jane Cox, university architecture assistant professor Axel Kilian, and others to present a new commissioned work to be performed in the Forum as part of the opening theater festival. (See the related story on page 28).
As noted the Forum connects three buildings with distinguishing features: The 23,000-square-foot New Music Building has suspended practice rooms and teaching studios to ensure sound isolation and a two-story acoustically isolated instrumental rehearsal room with equipment for professional-quality audio recordings that will be used the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk), the chamber orchestra Sinfonia, various jazz ensembles, and the Princeton University Orchestra.
The Wallace Dance Building and Theater houses two theaters: a 3,600-square-foot dance theater with flexible seating for 120 and a 3,600-square-foot black box theater with flexible seating for up to 150. Both feature state-of-the-art professional lighting and rigging. There is also a 2,000-square-foot acting studio designed for smaller, more intimate performances with seating for 75. It also houses a swirling staircase, dubbed the dancing staircase and featuring design motifs based on dance choreography notation.
And the Arts Tower houses an additional dance studio, an art gallery, box office, arts library, conference room, and administrative offices.
The building facades also incorporate translucent or opaque materials that allow passersby to glimpse rehearsals or presentations or visually explore the interiors.
The project was made possible, in part, by a $101 million gift from the late Peter B. Lewis, Class of 1955, and chairman of Progressive Insurance Company. General Investment and Development founders Monte J. Wallace, Class of ’53, and Neil W. Wallace, ’55, contributed $15 million for the dance and theater building, and an unnamed alumnus and his wife donated $10 million to support the music building.
The New York and Beijing-based Steven Holl Architects’ selection was a reaction to the university’s desire to find “an architect who thrives on a complex program, and not only having a plan support that program but also having the buildings connect the programs together — almost integrate the programs spatially,” according to a statement by university executive vice president Mark Burstein.
With a resume that includes performing arts venues, museums, and universities, the Praemium Imperiale Award, and the AIA Gold Medal, Holl Architects leaders say in a statement their approach involves “the experience of time, space, light, and materials. The phenomena of the space of a room, the sunlight entering through a window, and the color and reflection of materials on a wall and floor all have integral relationships. The materials of architecture communicate through resonance and dissonance, just as instruments in musical composition, producing thought and sense-provoking qualities in the experience of a place.”
In his booklet on the new Princeton building, Holl writes, “Whereas music has a materiality in instrumentation and sound, architecture has an analogue in light and space . . . The Lewis Center is composed of heavy and light materials. The concrete structure planes (some exposed inside) are covered in thick Lecce stone while the light sections are in sandblasted glass. The lightweight is emphasized in the suspended on-rods construction of the wooden practice rooms towering over the orchestral practice rooms. Proportion is important in architecture as well as music. The composer Bela Bartok made many compositions adhering to golden section proportions. The Lewis Center proportions likewise correspond to the Fibonacci sequence . . . From scale to proportions, from the material to time and light to space the analogical process of music and architecture has deep roots.”
Those connections were reinforced during the recent tour when partner Noah Yaffee of the Holl firm referred to the space as an instrument of its own and pointed out several musical motifs, including the rhythm of the suspended room shapes, staff-like lighting fixtures, and a carpet design based on the music of American Composer Morton Feldman.
According to “Designing the Lewis Center,” “The project aims to create a new campus gateway: shaping campus space while maximizing porosity and movement from all sides. More transparent in its architecture than the existing quadrangles on campus, the new arts quadrangle forms a catalyst with visual connection throughout” and a space “aimed at provoking curiosity and interaction” and “an open public invitation.”
Those interested in learning more about Steven Holl Architects and the Lewis Center’s design can do so by visiting the exhibition of Holl’s concept drawings, models, photographs, and texts on display in the CoLab in the Forum, on view daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through October 15. Free.
There is also the “Architecture of the Lewis Center for the Arts: Princeton University” with Princeton University architect Ron McCoy, architectural critic Paul Goldberger, and Princeton University Art Museum director James Steward discussing the architecture of Steven Holl and its relationship to contemporary design, meaning, and potential for shaping and reshaping the experiences of diverse users. Thursday, October 5, 4:30 p.m. McCosh 10. Free.
Highlights of the Lewis Center’s opening Festival of the Arts, Friday through Sunday, October 6 through 8, include:
A Love Supreme by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Salva Sanchis and featuring Rosas dance company dancers performing to the music of John Coltrane. Hearst Dance Theater. October 6 and 7, 7 p.m., and October 8, 2 p.m.
Gurls, a world premiere of Obie Award-winning playwright and Princeton alumnus Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ adaptation of Euripides’ “The Bacchae,” directed by Obie-Award winner and Princeton alumna Lileana Blain-Cruz. Wallace Theater $8 to $17. October 6 and 7, 8:30 p.m., and October 8, 3:30 p.m. Also October 12 to 14.
Performance walks exploring issues of race and protest in Trenton and on campus, developed by theater artist Aaron Landsman, historian Alison Isenberg, and Princeton students. Tours begin at the Plaza at Lewis Arts complex. Free. October 6, 3 and 5 p.m., October 7, 12:30, 3, and 5 p.m., and October 8 ,12:30 and 3 p.m.
Theater for One, Tony Award-winning designer Christine Jones’ mobile unit pairs one actor with one audience for short play performances. Forum. Free. October 6, 4 to 8 p.m., October 7, 2 to 8 p.m., and October 8, noon to 6 p.m.
TouchTones: A story of sex, death and telephones, assistant professor Brian Herrera’s interactive encounter draws on his years as a “moderator” for one of New York’s leading adult party-line services. Donald G. Drapkin Studio. Free (adults only). October 7, 9 p.m.
Orpheus Unsung, Grammy Award-winning composer and university faculty member Steven Mackey’s wordless electric guitar opera, Matthews Acting Studio, 185 Nassau Street. $5 to $15. October 6 and 7, 6 and 9 p.m.
For the complete schedule visit lcaopening.princeton.edu.