The buildings in the Engineering Quadrangle (EQuad) seem oddly disconnected with the rest of Princeton’s Gothic architecture. Besides its appearance, the EQuad is also physically dislocated from the center of student life. People like to joke about how far away the EQuad is, and having walked there innumerable times this summer and this year I can attest to the boost it gives to my daily step count. This summer as an EQuad tour guide, I showed prospective students through the various labs and facilities of the EQuad. After familiarizing myself with the surroundings, I realized there was an element that connects the seemingly disparate EQuad with the rest of campus: the sculptures.
Princeton’s Engineering Quadrangle
Princeton’s campus, EQuad included, is dotted with modern sculptures that add character to the surroundings. This was brought to my attention on one of my tours, when a small child asked me about the large copper sculpture in front of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. I had walked by that sculpture myself many times, yet had not really investigated it. It was at that point I realized that the campus art collection also spreads to the engineering school, and how these choices of placement are very deliberate. The art around campus binds everything together around a narrative of human creativity.
The sculpture in front of Andlinger is called Uroda, and was created by German-born American artist Ursula von Rydingsvard. Uroda was a labor-intensive group project: it took six months to make, is composed of more than 3,000 hand-hammered pieces, and involved a team of craftspeople to construct. It took hard, consistent, and patient work to construct the cedar beam sculpture covered with copper. I watched a video of the creation process for Uroda, and I was surprised how similar it was to engineers constructing a project.
Richard Webber, a metal artist involved with the project, trained each one of his craftspeople individually. Each person was taught how to capture line, form, volume, and how to cut the material, but after that each ventured on their own to capture the movement and meaning of the piece. In the end, each individual contribution came together for a polished result, much like each individual cell coming together as a living organism.
The labor-intensive assembly combined with the scale of the project and awareness of material reminds me of the engineering process, but von Rydingsvard and her team were creating art, something that people seem to separate from engineering entirely. However, the processes behind art and engineering are delicately intertwined. Uroda is imbued with feelings and emotion, that for the artist were not always logical or rational, but served as creative push for the project. This motivation is similar to that of an engineer who discovers and creates. This drive happens daily as the engineering school at Princeton University conducts experiments, writes proposals, and publishes papers, and within the engineering students as they work on individual projects, problem sets, and lab assignments.
Just like the copper of Uroda will undergo change as it receives rain, snow, heat, and cold, there is constant discovery in the EQuad. Far from a stagnant work of art, Uroda is continually reborn as a new work of art as it is worn by the elements. The effects of the elements on the material are known, but it is unpredictable in what combination each element will wear it down. Each day, there is a new form to look forward to, much like the anticipation of discovery in the EQuad. Uroda seemed like an overwhelming project at first because of its labor-intensive construction, but ultimately with passion and ingenuity, the impossible was made possible. Whenever I walk by Uroda I am impressed by the ambition of von Rydingsvard and her team, but also the creative spirit of the EQuad that the sculpture captures.