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Modernism in Classical Armor

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Xululabs, Xululabs

Project Name

Modernism in Classical Armor

Project Status



10,000 sq. feet



Project Description

It was an unlikely setup for a design coup. Whig Hall, one of the twin temple-form structures built on the Princeton University campus in 1837, had been gutted by fire. In a prescient move, the university commissioned young architects Charles Gwathmey and Robert Siegel to supply new innards for its stately marble exterior.

Although the rebuilding called for increasing its square footage from 7,000 to 10,000, the structure’s form and campus situation ruled out external additions. More space had to be developed above and below a reconfiguration of its double-height debating hall. To celebrate this internal transformation, the architects were able to cut out one flank of the building to create, quite literally, a showcase for an assemblage of glazed planes and Corbusian volumes.

A whole new structural system had to be inserted within the marble walls, which—as a result of the fire and subsequent stabilization efforts—had been exposed, unbraced, and were no longer reliable for support. A concrete column-and-slab system was devised. The need to keep column footings away from aged wall footings prompted the architects to emulate Le Corbusier’s Maison Domino structural concept, with freestanding columns well separated from walls.

In the 1990s, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects designed a cylindrical elevator tower, neatly attached to the rear wall, to meet accessibility standards. A thorough renovation of the building was completed last year by Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects. The main objectives were improvements in internal circulation, air conditioning, and acoustical performance, all accomplished with due respect for the deft combination of modernism and classicism that made Whig Hall a 1970s icon.
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