A Study in Scholastic Architecture

The Graduate College Group of Princeton University

Certain Universities in this country would seem to have been more favored than others in their architectural possessions. It is an unfortunate circumstance that most of our Universities, however, have been, architecturally speaking, of gradual growth. This has occasioned a distinctly distressing diversity in architectural styles in the several buildings, and has caused many colleges to present rather an exemplar of passing phases of style than any semblance of a consistent theme or a pre-studied general group plan. Some are fortunate I possessing a good general arrangement, but unfortunate in the indiscriminate juxtaposition of Gothic, Byzantine, Classic and other conceptions of varied derivation; while others, with grievously scattered buildings, possess certain units or groups of marked architectural merit and propriety.

At Bryn Mawr and at the University of Pennsylvania and at Washington University in Illinois there are some splendid studies in English Collegiate architecture by Cope and Stewardson and by Day Brothers and Klauder. Pre-eminently there is the group of the Military academy at West Point, by Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, in which, however, it was intended to express certain rugged fortress-like qualities in addition to certain less marked collegiate qualities. After West Point there is the College of the City of New York, by the late George B. Post, a group planned and executed, like West Point, at one time. Both have this advantage, with all its attendant merits, though the harsh contrast of materials in the New York group has been reckoned unfortunate.

Princeton, despite its age, has been especially fortunate in its new buildings, for the reason that all are unusually pleasing renderings of a more or less native conception of the collegiate architecture--part Gothic and part Renaissance--which constitutes the revered charm of Oxford and Cambridge in England. And, unlike some other universities, the older buildings at Princeton even when they are banal, are at least inoffensive. They almost seem to serve as a background for the newer buildings, and their very lack of character prevents them from unpleasing conflict.

Perhaps a discussion of the group of buildings constituting Princeton University, however, may not seem entirely germane to the consideration of a group so isolated, or so sufficient to itself as the newly completed Graduate College, the work of the Boston office of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson. Despite this, it is important to appreciate the fact that, since the newer buildings at Princeton are the buildings which give it what might be called its architectural stamp, the general conformity of the Graduate College Group with this already existing English Collegiate style is at once a matter of commendation to the architects and congratulation to the University.

The purposes of the Graduate College, educationally speaking, must be reasonably obvious from its name. A brief outline, however, cannot fail to aid in an appreciation of the architectural expression of this educational idea, for here are to be reckoned with not merely strait considerations of architectural technique per se, but more intangible qualities as well, popularly included in the term "atmosphere."

It is the intention of the University to constitute the Graduate College a center of advanced study. Mr. Andrew F. West, Dean of the Graduate College, says:

"All those and only those who show capacity and desire for high intellectual effort should be encouraged to enter. It is no place for either shallow dabbling, narrow intensity, dull mediocrity or unsocial isolation. Young men, young in spirit, rich in intellectual and moral worth, responsive to scholarly impulses, eager to seek and find, able to perceive, take and use the more valuable as distinguished from the less valuable materials of knowledge, willing to do all and dare all to make themselves master-students, open-eyed to ideas in their relevancy, worth and beauty, pulsing with energy, inventiveness and fantasy, men companionable, magnanimous and unselfish, such are the students to be longed for and prized supremely. These are the sons of knowledge who are best fitted to live not for themselves alone nor by themselves alone, but first in the household of knowledge and then in the larger society of the world. On the basis of such convictions the Graduate College of Princeton was planned. In spirit and substance it is to be a new institution planted in the midst of the present Graduate School, to take root there and gradually transform it into something higher. . . . Thus far American Universities have made little provision for the physical and social welfare of graduate students. Here and there a dormitory has been set apart for the purpose. As a rule, however, they have been left to shift for themselves. . . . If the best results are to be had, their standard of social living should not be that of a boarding house, a hotel, a club or a dormitory. It should be the quiet dignity of a home of learning. If the higher teachers of the nation should be trained in a place and society worthy of their calling why should they not dwell in a beautiful, even a stately, home? The loveliness of King's College Chapel, which appealed so deeply to Milton and Wordsworth, is part of the best endowment of Cambridge."

The Dean further amplifies this though with pertinent generalities on the value and importance of association, and on the unquestionable fact that surroundings which are essentially and traditionally scholastic must definitely and beneficially influence all students.

It is this quality of scholastic repose, with others of dignity, of propriety, and of nobility, that has been so powerfully achieved in the architectural treatment of the Graduate School of Princeton University. And this is the more remarkable by reason of the fact that certain superficial but potent scenic accessories were lacking in the site. Here was an open hill, out upon the golf links--a site devoid of the venerable trees which one associates with scholastic surroundings, and the buildings but recently being completed, no time has elapsed for the work of the softening touch of ivy or the mellowing aura of age. That the group should present such powerful suggestions of long use, that it should impress one as "a place of known abode" must be reckoned an architectural achievement as powerful as it is delicate.

The plan despite the appearance of axial symmetry had from distant prospects, will be seen upon study to be interestingly irregular. The ultimate whole has been planned to extend itself in two additional quadrangles--one to the southeast and one to the northeast, the first explaining the placing of the Cleveland tower. Looking westward across the links, the tower has a little of the unfortunate appearance of isolation from the group proper which characterizes the Victoria tower of the Houses of Parliament in London, but the future addition of this proposed quadrangle will obviously throw the Cleveland Tower back into the mass composition, be it viewed from any angle. Even in its present location, most prospects of the group, especially that from the northwest, are distinctly happy. As proposed by the architects, this southeast quadrangle should be designed to comprise a chapel, a library and livingrooms, while the northeast quadrangle would be made up solely of residential units.

In general there is manifest a successful result in giving the impression of a great English college (albeit a thought ecclesiastical in some particulars) without copying, with careful stupidity, any specific portion of any specific English college.

The dominant feature of the group is the great tower, its designation forever commemorating Grover Cleveland, dear to the hearts of Princetonians. Certainly it is an exceptionally interesting study, for the reason that it is in exact conformity with no similar tower of the past. The use of hexagonal instead of octagonal turrets at the corners is unusual, but successful, and so also is the extreme splay of the bell-deck windows, and there is a distinct sense of architectural logic (or logical architecture) in the extreme severity of the base, with progressive enrichment and glorification as the tower rises to its full height.

The main entrance is to the right of the tower, directly at its base, with a long bank of dormitories running north at a marked splay from the orientation of the tower. At right angles with this dormitory building (and consequently obliquely to the rest of the group) lies another bank of dormitories, the two enclosing two sides of the inner court, or quadrangle. Before the North dormitories, with their engaging cloisters, a portion of the court is raised as a terrace, and is intended to be used as a bowling green.

Directly behind the tower, and running westward, lies the third side of quadrangle, containing first the several service offices of the building, and further a quiet reading room and the reposeful and clublike "commons room"--the name and intent happily borrowed from the English college.

The west side of the quadrangle is lightened and given interest by another cloister, as well as by the broken irregularity of its contour. On axis with the main entrance, and to the left of the west cloister, is another beautifully detailed portal, giving into a porch which, in turn, gives into the rib-vaulted vestibule to the Great Hall. The door itself is massively fashioned of wood, with excellently interesting hardware, as throughout the college. The vestibule, albeit somewhat mediæval in its Gothic spirit, as opposed to Transitional, or English Renaissance, is distinctly impressive, with a fireplace of fascinating detail, and it is appropriately furnished with armor, old carved oak furniture and the severity of the stone walls warmed and softened by a tapestry.

A few steps lead from the vestibule up to the Great Hall, where certain very strong impressions immediately make themselves felt. The hall itself, the Refectory, or Dining Hall, of the group, is seen through a very finely carved wood screen. Oak wainscoting, seemingly and artfully of great age, reaches to the splayed sills of tall Gothic windows, and the perspective leads the eye to a sort of dais at the far end, with the "Upper Table" for the masters, and above it a great colored window. Overhead are gracefully massive open trusses, fashioned from great oak timbers. There is splendid honesty of construction here, for these trusses support, by their own staunchness, the heavy slate roof, for all that the eye is beguiled by the spirited grotesques carved in the solid beam-ends. The fire place in this great hall is particularly pleasing--the whole character is sometimes Gothic and sometimes Transitional and always interesting. Some of the carved panels are enriched with Gothic arabesques, and others with characteristic "Linen-fold," and the Princeton tiger, holding a shield, enlivens the frieze of the wainscot. There is a splendid (and, in this country too-unusual) quality of craftsmanship in the whole group, but it is paramount here, and the most potent factor of all else but the conception itself in producing the illusion of age in this Great Hall. This quality of craftsmanship even redeems what might be too much finesse in the detailing of the screen at the east end--and certainly it lends character to the trusses overhead.

Facing the fireplace is a tall oriel window, and considering the exterior of this, one is impelled to feel that here is an over-marked leaning toward the ecclesiastical. Chapel or Refectory? The question is not asked by the observer, but imposed by the mounting buttresses, the tall Gothic-mullioned windows and aspiring pinnacles. And yet it could not well be otherwise, in all but the pinnacles, yet the terminal octagonal turrets are reassuring, and the grotesque heads and the heraldic Princeton tigers interpose a happy distraction.

At the end of the Great Hall, and out from the main group, lies a delightfully domestic building which is the Deanery, not shown in the plan reproduced with this article. It is connected with the end of the Great Hall only by a stone wall, in which is a door, giving into a sheltered garden close. Here is the porch of the Deanery, and a view of its charmingly informal mingling of stone and half-timber, and that informality of roof-line and fenestration which is the best of its own sort of English domestic architecture.

Wandering from corridor to quadrangle, through cloisters, under great collegiate portals, or along the terrace that flanks the south side of the Graduate College, one has forgotten how entirely new it is--and one is impelled to realize the poverty of common diction. What is meant by "new?" The artisans have but recently departed, the place has not been hallowed by long use and scholastic association, and yet it is old. And that is because the ideals which went into its conception, and the ideals which inspired the craftsmanship of its execution were old ideals. And here, then, is architectural technique of the highest order--here is the most that architecture, as an art of expression, is capable of attaining.


The Architectural Record Volume XXXV January, 1914, Number I