I spent my summer interning a short six miles from campus at a small Commercial Real Estate company called Herring Properties. The majority of the portfolio of the company consisted of suburban office. And while suburban office buildings may not be the first thing we think of when our artistic senses are aroused, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is quite a bit of artistic license employed in the development of new properties.
My boss had recently acquired two buildings that were previously part of the Princeton Hospital complex on Witherspoon Street. One of the buildings, 281 Witherspoon Street, was in good enough shape that a bit of cosmetic and interior work under new ownership was enough to suffice. The other building, 277 Witherspoon Street, is in much worse shape. Below is a picture of 277 Witherspoon as it exists today:
The building, dilapidated as it is, leaves much to be desired. As such, my boss decided he would knock it down and build a new retail/office space in its place. Herein lies the artistic challenge. How to design and build a property that fits with the aesthetic of what is already there? How much glass should there be? How much wood? What color glass? While much of the development of a new property is practical, a surprisingly large part of it is both artistic and aesthetic. There is a lot of thought that goes into how a building should look and fit with its surroundings. And while an office building in suburban New Jersey isn’t St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the basic aesthetic and architectural questions involved in the construction of any new building are the same. Below is an image of the proposed design for the new 277 Witherspoon:
As funny as it may sound, it took a summer learning about the development and redevelopment of suburban office buildings for me to appreciate the artistic complexity involved in the architectural synchronization of spaces/neighborhoods and the buildings that compose them. Walking around campus, I have a newfound appreciation for how well Princeton blends completely different architectural styles to create a symbiotic and beautiful whole. And walking through the collection at the PUAM, I couldn’t help but think of the ways in which we see and experience art daily on our campus and in our communities.