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Princeton’s Campus Plan Comes Into Full Bloom

September 23, 2008

By Dianna Dilworth

Environmental sustainability has long played a role in Princeton University’s plan for its 380-acre campus in central New Jersey. While consulting on the landscape design from 1912 to 1943,  the landscape architect Beatrix Farrand employed conservation measures, such as creating underground cisterns to collect rainwater for irrigation. So it follows that the school’s latest campus plan—its most ambitious to date—has a green focus. 

Already under construction is a 260,000-square-foot chemistry building designed by Hopkins Architects of London, in collaboration with Payette Associates of Boston.
The Sciences Green would lie between Princeton Stadium to the east and the natural sciences buildings to the west. The sculptural building in the background is the new Science Library designed by Frank Gehry.
Images courtesy Princeton University
Already under construction is a 260,000-square-foot chemistry building designed by Hopkins Architects of London, in collaboration with Payette Associates of Boston (top); The Sciences Green would lie between Princeton Stadium to the east and the natural sciences buildings to the west. The sculptural building in the background is the new Science Library designed by Frank Gehry (bottom).


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The 10-year plan, envisioned by Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) and a university steering committee, calls for adding 2 million square feet of built space. It dovetails with the school’s recently announced sustainability initiative, which aims to reduce, by 2020, greenhouse gas emissions to the levels they were in 1990. This will prevent 75,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year, according to a university spokeswoman.

To help accomplish this goal, the BBB plan treats the campus as a series of neighborhoods and encourages increasing density, rather than developing a 400-acre, university-owned forest that adjoins the campus. “Rather than just plopping down buildings, we wanted to integrate the campus into the natural systems of the environment,” explains partner Neil Kittredge.

All new buildings will be designed to achieve at least a LEED Silver equivalency. These projects include Butler College, a 112,000-square-foot dormitory by Harry Cobb that will feature a partial green roof; a 240,000-square-foot neuroscience and psychology complex by Rafael Moneo, to be built with a cut-and-fill process to eliminate waste during construction; and a 40,000-square-foot academic building by Frederick Fisher that also will include a green roof.

In addition, Steven Holl has been tapped to design three buildings totaling about 130,000 square feet for a new arts complex that might incorporate a geothermal heating system. Already under construction is a 260,000-square-foot chemistry building by British architect Michael Hopkins, which is designed to consume 33 percent less energy than a typical research facility.

Existing buildings will be retrofitted to meet the new green standards. The university intends to update heating and cooling systems, replace windows to improve insulation, add solar panels, and use LED lighting for outdoor spaces. The plan also encourages less driving via improved pathways and more on-campus housing. Also planned is a new mixed-use transit hub for Princeton’s train system that will include retail space and bike lock facilities.

Beyond buildings, the New York–based landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates has designed a landscaping program with sustainable features, such as rain gardens, planted depressions that absorb rainwater runoff. The school’s efforts tie in with a countrywide movement to green college campuses.

Given its history,  it’s only natural that Princeton set a good example, explains Mark Burstein, vice president. “We thought the leadership role of the institution,” he says, “was to make our campus a laboratory for cutting emissions.”

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