Aimed at improving sustainability and accommodating growth, Princeton University’s 2016 Campus Plan managed the coordination of changes to campus structure, facilities, programming, and density. MVVA consulted on this effort from 2006 to 2008, leading the planning of all open spaces and the systems that support them. Within this overall Campus Plan, MVVA then guided the creation of a 10-year Campus Landscape Plan with three core goals: to develop a coherent landscape character adapted to diverse edge conditions as the campus expanded; to institute sustainable landscape practices, including improved stormwater retention and ecological vitality; and to prioritize landscape expenditures over a 10-year period.
The design team focused on the 40 percent of campus occupied by sports facilities, parking lots, and service areas, all of which lacked the experiential qualities of the University’s historic core. MVVA was asked to establish a new landscape tradition, extending the experience of being on the Princeton campus within a much denser architectural context. For example, the Campus Plan recommended recreating small woodland groves with paths through them, making a robust new landscape that was consistent with both the more intimate character of the original campus and with the size and style of several new buildings.
Through work on the Princeton Campus Plan, MVVA has realized numerous landscape projects that reinvigorate the historic core and establish new focal points at the southern periphery of the campus.
The enlargement of the campus over many years has produced a broad range of approaches to buildings and landscapes. Analysis and observation demonstrated that Princeton’s pedestrian circulation system was the campus’s key urban form. Studying the relationship between circulation types and the campus topography revealed a framework and a built language for the campus.
MVVA’s work at Princeton includes a variety of project types and scales—from plazas to courtyards, ceremonial walks to lushly vegetated woodlands. Taken as a whole, this work represents a comprehensive consideration of the systems that make up a university campus landscape, including circulation, culture, ecology, hydrology, and history. The projects have occasioned collaborations with Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, Steven Holl Architects, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, Frederick Fisher & Partners, Hopkins Architects, KPMB Architects, Rick Joy, and HNTB Engineering, among others.
Concepts from the Campus Plan were realized in built projects over the course of a decade. MVVA completed site work for capital building projects (orange) and stand-alone landscape projects (green). The circle size indicates the cost and extent of each campus element.
MVVA was asked to restore the historic Holder Courtyard, which was designed by the pioneering landscape architect Beatrix Farrand in the early 20th century. Holder Courtyard provides a social outdoor space for the dormitory that surrounds it while maintaining its historical connection to Farrand, who as Princeton’s consulting landscape architect from 1915 to 1943 designed courtyards that still flourish on campus today. Holder Courtyard is one in a collection of refurbished historic spaces that shaped the visual identity of the campus and now offer moments of repose for the Princeton community.
The University asked MVVA to explore how the portion of the Firestone Library roof parallel to Nassau Street, which had been inaccessible for decades, could become part of the public realm. The result is a new rooftop landscape bordered by an allée along Nassau Street and a new garden entrance to Firestone along Nassau Street. The roof’s plant palette features grasses and wildflower species that connect it to the campus at large.
The Middle Campus
MVVA led a landscape-based revitalization of Princeton’s Middle Campus, comprised of four areas: Butler Walk, the Arts District, Shapiro Walk, and East Campus. This work implements the objectives of the master plan, unifying several generations of disjointed growth into a more coherent landscape, forming well-knit districts around Arts, Sciences, and Engineering.
Arts and Transit Neighborhood
The Arts and Transit Neighborhood at the southwest corner of the campus is anchored by the McCarter Theater Center and Steven Holl’s multipart Lewis Center for dance, music, and drama, as well as the terminus of the train line from Princeton Junction to Princeton, known as the Dinky. Public plazas now tie this neighborhood together, while improved traffic flow makes the new buildings and plazas easy for students to reach on foot. Working with Holl, Rick Joy, and other architects, MVVA created public places that extend the campus fabric to the new buildings.
Rather than replicating one particular open-space model in several locations, it is important to recognize the uniqueness of smaller-scale campus locations in fostering social communication, and to provide landscape guidance specific to individual site conditions.
The pedestrian bridge and landscape restoration provides a safe pedestrian crossing between the science facilities on both sides of Washington Road as well as between the dorms to the west and the athletic facilities to the east.