‘Expansion and the Automobile raise grave problems.” That ominous headline runs above a lengthy article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly about Princeton University’s plans to expand its campus.
That headline appeared in 1964, but it might well be repeated today as the university has released its master plan for expansion through 2026, which calls for enlarging the campus farther beyond its original core at Nassau Hall. Among the additions proposed are a new “Lake Campus” in West Windsor on the far side of Carnegie Lake. The plan for the next eight years calls for new buildings for engineering and environmental science, and at least one new residential college with 500 more students.
Just like the mid-century plan, the 2026 plan grapples with how to make the campus safe and friendly to pedestrians and cyclists in a suburban landscape that has been constructed for car traffic.
The plan may even have an impact on Route 1, as it envisions a new interchange for the highway at Harrison Street easing congestion on Route 1 and allowing vehicular and cycling traffic across it. Canal Pointe Boulevard, parallel to Route 1, would be extended through the campus to Harrison Street.
Ronald McCoy, Princeton University’s architect, will discuss the 2026 campus plan at a meeting of the Princeton Chamber of Commerce on Friday, April 20, from 7:30 to 9:45 a.m. at Springdale Golf Club. Tickets are $40, $30 for members. For more information visit www.princetonchamber.org.
Princeton seemingly has no shortage of land upon which to expand. The institution owns 1,040 acres in Princeton, 860 acres in Plainsboro, and 520 acres in West Windsor. The question has always been how best to use that land.
The university has expanded in fits and starts since 1756, when Nassau Hall was built, expanding in rings but mostly staying within the municipal limits of Princeton. In 1911 the architect Ralph Adams Cram called for courtyards and quadrangles to be constructed in the Collegiate Gothic style that he had developed and for which the university is now famous.
McCoy says Cram’s plan was implemented to a great extent, but not fully. “Cram’s plan was not implemented in the central area of campus, which had pre-existing stand-alone buildings that he had proposed to integrate into a more orderly composition of courtyard ensembles with strategies of additions and interventions,” McCoy says.
McCoy mentions Cram’s efforts in the 2026 plan:
“While the university has nurtured thoughtful planning solutions throughout its history, the discipline of campus planning has changed dramatically. Cram’s plan was brilliant but, by today’s standards, limited in scope. It was focused on presenting an artistic vision and formal composition, one that would combine a unifying structure — the grand axis extending south from Nassau Hall — with a fabric of intimate and relaxed settings for landscape and for academic and residential buildings,” he wrote. “Contemporary planning, as demonstrated in the campus plan of 2016, and even more so with the 2026 framework, is comprehensive and complex, involving broad community participation and an extensive team of consultants with expertise in planning, architecture, landscape architecture, movement, infrastructure, energy generation, sustainability, storm water management, bio-habitat management, regulatory requirements, cost estimating, and more.”
The most recent plan has been put together over the last four years with the help of 20 different consulting companies each specializing in areas like transportation, real estate, sustainability, and multiple other aspects of the plan. The team held focus groups and interviews with university administrators, students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and made presentations to various community groups along the way. One consulting company maintained a blog, ran surveys, and collected feedback on the plan’s development.
But not everyone agrees that the planning process has been inclusive enough.
Stanley Katz, professor of public and international affairs, told an alumni group he is skeptical about the expansion plan in a recent speech.
“I think it’s good the university is thinking carefully and systematically about what to do going forward, and I certainly admire the care with which they have done this, and that they have taken advice from people who sound interesting and knowledgeable,” he says. “I’m a little surprised and taken aback that there hasn’t been some discussion of this with the various elements of the campus community because the implications of aspects of this are profound for the future of the university. In an ideal world, I think it ought to be the endpoint of a long series of discussions which then get embedded in a plan rather than starting with a plan and working out what it means for the institution.”
“It’s one thing to hold a public meeting once you’ve made the decision, and another to have public meetings leading up to the decisions.”
Katz has spoken before on the danger of “the tail wagging the dog” when it comes to the influence that large private donors have on the philanthropic efforts they fund: that the big pocketbooks set the agenda. He fears this could happen to Princeton as it pursues support for its new engineering campus, and that these interests could overshadow input from current stakeholders.
McCoy, however, says the plan was put together with a large amount of input from the campus and the outside Princeton community.
“There were numerous opportunities for the community to engage in the campus planning process,” McCoy says. “Our consultant, Urban Strategies, maintained a robust website with a public blog throughout the three-year planning process, and comments and suggestions were welcomed. Public meetings were held starting at the earliest stages of the planning process and, when requested, there were meetings with interested neighborhood groups and local organizations.”
Improving the Center. The 2026 plan calls for improvements in the central part of the campus, starting with improving the Wilson College dorms built in the 1960s. The plan says these buildings are “not well suited to the needs of today’s students” and targets the dorms for replacement. Revamping these buildings would also allow for improved pedestrian paths across campus. (In 2009 Princeton replaced most of Butler College — three cheaply built space age dorms on the “New New Quad” — and now surviving 1960s constructions are on the chopping block.)
500 More Students. The plan would add at least one residential college housing 500 students. This new facility would be built south of Poe Field, east of Elm Drive, and just north of Roberts Stadium. A second residential college could be built on the current softball field and tennis center, with the sports facilities being relocated to the new complex on the other side of Lake Carnegie.
Katz said this proposal has the most potential to change the character of the university. “The president has been saying for some time since he was inaugurated that he believed we ought to build a new residential college. I admire this instinct. It is the responsibility of a wealthy private university to accommodate more first-generation and low-income students, and we should be able through this mechanism to further diversify the population from a socioeconomic point of view,” Katz says.
But Katz worried about the impact of 1,000 more students on the current undergraduate student population of around 5,500. “It’s a big increase in the number of students and there is no plan to increase the faculty proportionately,” he says. “I think there are real implications of even that level of increase in size for the student-faculty ratio, for the size of individual classes, and many things like that, which I think potentially have an impact on the quality of education,” he says.
McCoy said the expansion might include more faculty as well. “In many departments and programs, the needed faculty members are already in place,” he says. “Princeton’s faculty and graduate student body grow incrementally as the university enters new fields of research and scholarship; some departments may require additional capacity to meet increased demand and staff members to provide necessary resources and support services to a larger student population.”
Engineering Expansion. McCoy’s plan includes new buildings for engineering and environmental studies located on the north side of Ivy Lane and Western Way on land that is now mostly parking lots. The plan notes that “decisions also will have to be made about whether to renovate, repurpose, or replace some or all of the existing E-Quad buildings.”
Lake Campus. If the 2026 plan is followed, the solar fields and warehouses visible from Washington Road on the far side of Lake Carnegie would make way for a new campus with athletic facilities, graduate student housing, academic and administrative space, and retail space, all connected to the main campus by a new pedestrian bridge. The university bought these lands between 1945 and 1948 with an eye to expansion.
The lake campus would have a “transit hub” at its center with a parking lot, Tiger Transit stop, and bike storage.
A low-key addition to Lake Campus would be a meadow for a cross-country course and stormwater management.
Getting around. Along with an expanded campus comes the need for more efficient travel. The 2026 plan calls for new and improved trails and “campus connectors” running east to west and north to south. These connectors would mostly be for cyclists and walkers, but McCoy says parts of them would be for service and campus shuttles as well.
“Transit hubs” would be built at strategic points, and the routes of “Tiger Transit” shuttles would be expanded.
Katz worries that even with all these transportation provisions, it could take longer for students to get between classes at farther flung outposts. Classes run 50 minutes out of the hour, leaving students 10 minutes to get between classes. “Sometimes it’s a stretch now, but it works,” Katz says. “If you really were going from West Windsor to the arts building on Nassau Street, for instance, you couldn’t do it in 10 minutes.”
Katz, a specialist in American legal and constitutional history, is the former chair of the American Council of Learned Societies. He has a bachelor’s in English history and literature and a doctorate in British and American history from Harvard. His academic career has brought him numerous honors, including the National Humanities Medal awarded by President Obama in 2011. He taught history at Harvard and Wisconsin, and law at the University of Chicago before coming to Princeton to teach legal history.
Katz says that keeping to the current schedule might require more shuttle buses or some other mode of transportation that is not specified in the plan.
The Lake Campus is well outside of the 10 minute window for walkers. “The 2006 Campus Plan noted that most campus destinations were within a 10-minute walk of the Frist Campus Center and the intent to maintain that walking radius,” McCoy says.
McCoy has a bachelor’s from USC and a master’s in architecture from Princeton, graduating in 1980. He was a project designer for Michael Graves and worked for Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates of Philadelphia, where he was the project architect for Princeton’s Lewis Thomas Laboratory. He has taught at Drexel, Temple, ASU, and the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and has a private architecture practice with his wife, Janet Simon.
“The 2026 campus plan recognizes that as the campus grows, facilitating biking is an important strategy to maintain proximity and ease of access between destinations, while also enhancing the walkability of the expanding campus,” McCoy says.
The plan follows “complete streets” principles, which means designing roads to be shared equitably between pedestrians, cyclists, and cars.
Mixed-Use Development. The plan targets several areas for mixed-use development that would encourage mingling between the campus and the Princeton community. The area immediately south of the “Arts and Transit” neighborhood by the Lewis Center and the Dinky station would be the main area for new mixed-use development. The plan proposes re-zoning this neighborhood from “service businesses” to “mixed use” to allow for housing of various kinds, retail, office space, and a hotel. “Such redevelopment of this corridor could significantly enhance the streetscape and create an attractive gateway to the town and campus,” the plan says.
Forrestal Campus projects. Princeton’s Forrestal outpost, the site of the Plasma Physics Lab, would not be neglected under the new plan. It would receive new landscaping, new cycling connections to the main campus, and an expansion of the ReCAP facility, which is a repository of 17 million research records. The library might expand into the current gas dynamics lab, which itself could be moved to a newer facility somewhere else on campus.
Sustainability. Recent additions to Princeton’s campus have included eco-friendly features, and the campus plan calls for this trend to continue. The existing steam distribution will be replaced with a hot water system, and the campus will make more use of solar power by building more dedicated solar arrays or by installing them on roofs or over parking lots. Geothermal wells would be built. On the transportation front, the design is meant to enhance access to transit and encourage biking and walking around campus. Buildings would be designed to use rainwater in toilets, as the Andlinger Center and a few other campus buildings currently do.
“Strategies for reclaiming rainwater have been implemented on a number of the university’s projects, including the Andlinger Center, the Frick Chemistry Lab, and the Peretsmann-Scully Hall/Princeton Neuroscience Institute project,” McCoy says. “We estimate that the campus’s stormwater management strategies, including rainwater reclamation and a range of landscape-based stormwater management techniques, have reduced annual stormwater runoff by 23 million gallons.”
How to Pay for it. Katz speculates that whatever grand buildings end up being constructed on the new parts of the campus, the university will seek major donors to foot the bill. The $101 million Lewis Center was the result of one such donation, and the Andlinger Center was built with a number of large gifts.
In this arena, Princeton is falling behind its rivals. The Chronicle of Higher Education compiles a yearly list of the largest gifts to private education. The Lewis donation, made in 2005, is far down on the list, dwarfed by several $1 billion donations from the past few years. (The Scheide family’s donation of $300 million worth of rare manuscripts to Princeton barely cracks the top 25.)
By contrast, Stanford has logged two donations of $400 million since 2001.
“That’s the new game, and I think we haven’t actually been playing in that league,” Katz says. “Princeton University has not been as good as Stanford in attracting mega-gifts. That is partly because we have not had a big-time engineering school here, and we have not produced Silicon Valley billionaires in the way that Stanford does — of course, we also do not have a business school like SBS. I think Princeton University genuinely wants to improve engineering — we used to think that selective excellence and “small is beautiful” would suffice, but they do not in the engineering environment of the 21st century. So our fundraising priorities for the forthcoming campaign will be engineering and environmental sciences, and we’ll devote a new campus to them … Meanwhile we will be looking for gifts that make the Peter Lewis current record-holding gift of $101 million look like chump change.”
For more information: campusplan.princeton.edu