College Ave: News of Fresh
Most people assumed that the unutterable
"Vision for College Ave" project had died for lack
It didn't die. Last year, as you may
recall, the McCormick administration held a design competition
in which architectural firms displayed their "visions"
for College Ave. Last week, at a surprise press conference, the
administration announced that it had hired one of those firms
to begin on a limited design plan meant to establish a beachhead
for subsequent campus redesign.
Farther down on this page -- not the
picture of the "transportation hub" immediately below
this section, but lower down -- you'll find an inset box showing
designs submitted by four of the competitors. Take a moment to
look at them. Staying particularly alert for anything that resembles
a gigantic Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can, pick out the one that
would be most likely to persuade you, if you were a visiting
high school senior, to go to anyplace but Rutgers University
in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Now. Guess which architectural firm was
chosen by Richard L. McCormick to have its way with our College
Send an e-mail to R.L.
There is still
time for you to undertake a genuine "greening of College
Ave" that will not make our campus even uglier than it is.
We ask you
NOT to authorize the construction of the airport-shopping mall
"transportation hub" proposed by TEN Arquitectos ("The
beer can people you can trust.")
We ask you
INSTEAD simply to jackhammer up College Avenue and plant grass
and trees where the asphalt was. No cars. No parking places.
No buses. Just green space, with brick or cobblestone walks lined
by trees. A college campus, in short, as befits an old eastern
university. Sort of like the university shown here, which until recently also had a slum
campus problem very much like ours.
ask you to spend the money that would have been wasted on the
TEN Arquitectos monstrosity to transform the College Avenue gym
into Doolittle Hall as envisioned by the Mason Gross Project,
providing Rutgers with a complex of seminar rooms, student theater
space, and a lecture hall for serious occasions such as university
meetings, academic ceremonies, and distinguished visiting lecturers.
Green space, Mr. President.
Seminar rooms. A well-equipped theater for student productions.
A dignified lecture space that would do credit to Rutgers as
an institution of higher learning.
aluminum-and-steel shopping mall monstrosities to make our dreary
campus even drearier than before.
You're right. It was TEN Arquitectos,
the visionary company that came up with the "beer can campus."
Their "beachhead" project consists of planting a few
trees and building something called a "transportation hub."
Take a look.
"transportation hub," to be perpetrated under the aegis
of TEN Architectos ("The beer can people you can trust.")
"Two British experts have
looked at the physical setting as 'an active agent.' In their
new study, they suggest that continually, though silently, a
campus tells students who they are and how they should think
about the world. It can create high self-confidence or low self-esteem."
Alison Lurie, New York Review of Books, 4 Dec 2008
Rutgers College: History
Next year Old Queens, the lovely Georgian
building that looks out over the oldest part of the Rutgers campus,
will be 200 years old.
The anniversary suggests a question:
what sight will greet visitors to the Rutgers campus two centuries
from now, in the year 2208? Will there be ample green space,
as befits a university founded in the Colonial period? Will buildings
erected over the next two centuries echo the graceful Georgian
lines and Palladian proportions of Old Queens,
Van Dyke, Murray Hall - all embodying an architectural style
that was nearly universal in the eastern colonies in the middle
of the 18th century, when Rutgers was founded as an institution?
Or will visitors two centuries from now
see something else? Something resembling the airports and shopping
malls and urban ugliness of early-21st-century America? A campus
that looks like a abandoned set from Star Wars? Or one
built in the neo-Corbu "modern brutalism" of twentieth
century penitentiaries? Or the bizarre personal fantasies of
architects trying to imitate the postmodern "originality"
of charlatans like Venturi and Gehry?
Several years ago, the McCormick administration
sponsored an architectural competition for what it called "A
Vision for College Avenue." Plans submitted by various architectural
firms were put on display at the Zimmerli art museum.
Samples from that exhibit are given below.
But first, those who go on will want to prepare by reading an
important book about designs like the ones they're about to look
at. The book is Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House,
an invaluable guide to the derangements of modern theory-driven
and "personalized" architecture. Here's how it begins:
for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever
been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and
power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they
goes to school in a building that looks like a duplicating-machine
replacement-parts wholesale distribution warehouse.
law firm in New York moves without a sputter of protest into
a glass-box office building with concrete slab floors and seven-foot-ten-inch-high
concrete slab ceilings and plasterboard walls. Without a peep
they move in!even though the glass box appalls them all!
new approaches, new movements, new isms: Post-Modernism, Late
Modernism, Rationalism, Neo-Corbu, and the Los Angeles Silvers.
Which add up to what? To such things as building more glass boxes
and covering them with mirrored plate glass so as to reflect
the glass boxes next door and distort their boring straight lines
our bureaucrats, board chairmen, CEO's, commissioners, and college
presidents underwent an inexplicable change. They became diffident
and reticent. All at once they were willing to accept the glass
of ice water in the face, that bracing slap across the mouth,
known as modern architecture.
And why? They
can't tell you. They look up at the barefaced building they have
bought, those great hulking structures they hate so thoroughly,
and they can't figure it out themselves. It makes their heads
What was the McCormick administration
inviting these architects to do to our campus? By way of an exercise,
let us match each of those architects' "visions," more
or less at random, with a passage from Wolfe's book.
| "So what if you were living in a building
that looked like a factory and felt like a factory, and paying
top dollar for it? Every modern building of quality looked like
a factory. That was the look of today. You
had only to think of Mies' campus for the Illinois Institute
of Technology, most of which had gone up in the 1940s. The main
classroom building looked like a shoe factory. The chapel looked
like a power plant. The power plant itself, also designed by
Mies, looked rather more spiritual, thanks to its chimney, which
reached heavenward at least. The school of architecture building
had black steel trusses rising up through the roof on either
side of the main entrance, after the manner of a Los Angeles
car wash. All four were glass and steel boxes. The truth was,
this was inescapable. The modernist style, with its nonbourgeois
taboos, had so reduced the options of the true believer that
every building, the beach house no less than the skyscraper,
was bound to have the same general look."
|"The Stuttgart government put Mies in charge
of the Weissenhof Werkbund project. Despite an extremely tight
budget, Mies managed to turn the project into a world's fair
of worker housing. He brought in Le Corbusier from France, Oud
and Mart Stam from Holland, and Victor Bourgeois from France. Outsiders were amazed at the harmony or
sameness (according to whether they liked the style or didn't)
of the work of these architects from four different countries.
The truth was that the internal mechanism of everlasting reductionism
nonbourgeois!had forced them all within the same tiny cubicle.
Short of giving up the divine game altogether, they couldn't
possible have differed from one another in a way visible to another
living soul on this earth save another architect outfitted, like
a cryptographer, with Theory glasses."
|"They presented the International Style as
an inexorable trend, like a change in the weather or a tidal
wave. And if American architects
wanted to ride the wave, rather than be wiped out by it, they
had first to comprehend one thing: the client no longer counted
for anything except the funding. If he were cooperative, not
too much of a boor, it was acceptable to let him benefit from
your new vision. How this was to work out in practice, they didn't
say. How much explaining did a tidal wave have to do?"
| "All this had to go. All
masonry, all that gross and 'luxurious' granite, marble, limestone,
and red brick was suspect, unless used in obviously non-load-bearing
ways. Henceforth walls would be thin
skins of glass or stucco. Since walls were no longer used to
support a building steel and concrete or wooden skeletons
now did thatit was dishonest to make walls look as chunky
as a castle's. The inner structure, the machine-made parts, the
mechanical rectangles, the modern soul of the building must be
expressed on the outside. Astonishing! What virtuosity! How very
College Avenue: the One
Suppose for a second that the shopping-mall
architecture of TEN Architectos could be stopped in its tracks.
What should Rutgers do instead?
To anyone with a sense of architectural
history and college tradition, the answer is obvious. The one
thing needful is Georgian architecture. Classrooms, dormitories,
theater and seminar complexes, all built in the solid, graceful
style of the Georgian architecture already present in isolated
spots around our campus.
A short history. Georgian architecture
is called that because it was perfected during the 18th century
during the reign of the "four Georges" who had ascended
the English throne after the death of Queen Anne. Its aesthetic
roots were in the Palladian designs brought to England by the
great architect and designer Inigo Jones nearly a century before.
In the American colonies - this is, remember,
during the very period that Rutgers was being founded as a university,
one of the nine oldest institutions of higher learning in the
nation - pattern books brought the Georgian style to British
It is a graceful and timeless style,
particularly appropriate for a university which in some ideal
sense is supposed to exist apart from the fads and fashions of
contemporary consumer society - a refuge or sanctuary for the
contemplative values that lie at the center of genuine education.
A Georgian campus, such as the one the Rutgers is already on
the way to having, is the perfect symbol of this "apartness"
or separation from the world of MTV and American Idol
and the fads and fashions that will increasingly occupy the short
attention spans of a distracted and ignorant public over the
During the 20th century, academic Georgian
was the favored architectural style for older colleges and universities that, while expanding their
campuses, wanted to preserve continuity with their colonial past.
The results can be seen today, in for instance, the "house
system" that has given Harvard a world of separate self-contained
undergraduate colleges in the midst of a large impersonal modern
Eliot House, Harvard University
Rutgers, too, has its
gems of colonial Georgian. An outstanding example is the building
ungraciously known as the "College Avenue gym." Several
years ago, a Rutgers undergraduate named Christopher Swasey founded
a working group called the Mason Gross Project. MGP worked out
detailed plans that would transform the College Ave gym - now
little more than a hollow shell containing a basketball court,
weight rooms, and some athletics department offices - into a
space that would accomodate a large auditorium for visiting lecturers,
a student theater space for groups
like the College Avenue players, and a complex of seminar rooms
that, put into continuous use, would give thousands of Rutgers
undergraduates the lasting benefit of small seminars with leading
scholars and teachers on the Rutgers faculty.
Sadly, but perhaps predictably,
the plan was never listened to by the Rutgers administration.
The revival of talk about "visions for College Ave"
provides an opportunity to rexamine the MGP's quite sensible
proposals for at once making the most of Rutgers' Georgian architectural
heritage while providing much-needed space for academic, intellectual,
and artistic purposes.
The Mason Gross Project
Here's a look at proposals
made by the original Mason Gross Project.
MSG members argued that funding
for the "greening of College Ave" should be provided
by a $300-400 million bond issue by the NJ state legislature.
This is approximately the amount that has been squandered on
the Big East athletics build-up undertaken during the Lawrence-McCormick-Mulcahy
years. Matching it with funds devoted to academic and intellectual
purposes would be a partial reparation for the damage that Div
IA athletics has done to Rutgers as an institution of higher
There should be, argued the
MGP, no over-all plan. Once funding is secured, the "greening
of College Ave" project should be broken down into separate
phases, with the least expensive and most important steps taken
first, then remaining funds spent, building by building and project
by project, over a period of years as the pieces are fit together.
The first step proposed by
the MGP was to jackhammer up the asphalt on College Ave between
Somerset Street and Lafayette Street. Also, they said, the sidewalks.
Topsoil should be moved in. Grass and trees planted. Winding
paths - brick or cobblestone - laid down.
This would give Rutgers a campus
centered on a continuous expanse of green. It would be comparatively
cheap to do. You don't need a Robert Venturi or Frank Gehry to
do it. Just a decent landscape architect, a few workers with
jackhammers, some trucks with topsoil, and a lot of grass seed.
The MGP then
proposed one simple renovation as an example of what should be
done to give Rutgers a campus worthy of its history and traditions.
At Rutgers, even while Robert Mulcahy and the Board of Governors
have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading
the "Hale Center" for a handful of hired athletes,
the College Avenue Players have been forced to put on their productions
in the dreary space of a classroom
in one of the campus's dreariest buildings: Scott Hall, a prime
example of the cheapjack construction and depressing "modernist"
architecture that Wolfe so well describes in From Bauhaus
to Our House.
105, Rutgers University
The Mason Gross
Project proposal was to empty out the interior of the College
Avenue gym - to be renamed Doolittle Hall, in honor of a great
19th-century faculty member - and provide, among other facilities,
a small 200-seat student theater like the Murray Dodge theater
at Princeton, one that would
benefit Rutgers -actors, set designers, student directors, audiences
- for generations.
It was a splendid
idea. It remains a splendid idea, even as the amazing TEN Architeto
design for a "transportation hub" attempts, with the
blessing of the McCormick administration, to pull the university
in the direction of a ludicrous and self-aggrandizing "postmodernism."
The plan for
the remaining space in Doolittle Hall was equally sensible. The
MGP proposed that the degrading "Multi-purpose Room"
in the Rutgers Student Center, for instance, in which visiting
speakers and audiences are compelled to spend
hours in a high-school-like auditorium with battered metal chairs
and cheap carpeting, be replaced by a dignified and graceful
space that would do honor both to visitors and to Rutgers as
a university, as does, for instance, a similar lecture hall in
the Barker Center at Harvard.
Room, Barker Center
rooms would be added to the remaining (upper) space of Doolittle
Hall, to be used for seminars in Rutgers' various departments
and the general honors program, with the object of giving every
Rutgers student the seminar experience at least once during his
or her undergraduate career.
When the "greening"
of College Avenue - that is, the jackhammering up of the street
and the re-landscaping with trees and grass of the area between
Somerset and Lafayette Strees - was complete, argued the Mason
Gross Project, the next step should be the transformation of
the College Avenue gymnasium into Doolittle Hall.
The cost would
be a tiny fraction of the amount needed for any of the "postmodern
visions" currently on display at Zimmerli. The improvement
of collegial life at Rutgers would be immense.
The third step
proposed by MSG for the transformation of the College Ave campus
was the construction of a Georgian
quadrangle in the grease truck parking lot.
campus" appearance of Rutgers would be eliminated at a single
stroke. As the commanding feature of the new "Georgian campus,"
the quadrangle would set the tone for every later stage of the
renovation project. A good portion of the $300-400 million set
aside for campus renovation would be spent on this phase, so
it should be considered with utmost deliberation and seriousness
- with an eye, as said earlier, to how
visitors to the Rutgers campus two centuries from now will view
what they see, just as we look fondly at Old Queens when we pass
through the original college quadrangle today.
Hall, an example of the Rutgers "collegiate Georgic"
The key, argued
MGP members, is to hire architects who understand the Georgian
style. It is absolutely crucial not to get architects who propose
witty "postmodern" allusions to the Georgian style,
a la Venturi, or crass ego-driven "transformations"
of the Georgian style. What is needed is the Georgian style itself,
and the spending of a few more dollars that will provide solid
construction - interior walls, for instance, that minimize the
transmission of noise between classrooms - that will last centuries.
If such architects
can't be found immediately, those in charge of the planning should
keep looking until they find ones who can do the job. The important
questions are: (1) can this architect give us "pure"
examples of the Georgian style that will fit in harmoniously
with the already-existing examples of colonial Georgian on our
campus, and (2) can he or she demonstrate that the building style
and materials will be solid enough to last several centuries.
If the answer is no, the committee should keep looking.
MGP proposal: elimination of the vast and ugly parking lots that
make so much of the present Rutgers campus look like one large
Wal-Mart parking lot.
these acres of litter-strewn blacktop are depressing, MGP members
pointed out, the most depressing of all is the parking lot that
occupies the Old Queens quad. It exists solely to provide the
SUV's of staff and adminstrators a handy parking place, but at
the cost of defacing the oldest and loveliest area of Rutgers'
original colonial campus.
the remaining parking lots should be jackhammered up and built
on and planted with grass and
trees, said the MGP, the Old Queens parking lot that should be
at the head of the list.
lot in Old Queens quad. The plaque memorializes the ground from
which Alexander Hamilton's horse artillery protected the ford
of the Raritan during Washington's retreat to Trenton in the
Revolutionary War. Plaque placed by the Rugers class of 1899.
proposal: to provide parking for faculty and staff who think
they absolutely need to use Rutgers as a parking place, a 5-story
parking garage should be built in the location of the large parking
lot that now lies between College Ave and Union Street. Its existence
as a parking lot should be hidden from the outside by
an outside brick wall extending to the top of the structure,
planted with ivy on the campus side. Examples
are the Johnson & Johnson parking lodge and the Prospect
Street parking garage at Princeton.
parking lot that now dominates the area by Old Queens from which
Hamilton covered Washington's retreat.
Street garage is an especially good model for the "greening
of College Ave" project. The parking garage on the inside
of the Prospect Street lot at Princeton is large enough to accommodate
the total number of cars that currently clutter the Rutgers campus
on four major lots: the Old Queens quad "Wal-Mart"
lot, the "grease truck lot," the lot behind Murray
Hall, and the lot that so disfigures the campus between College
Ave and Union Street.
To see the
effect of a Prospect St-type model for Rutgers, simply take a
look at these pictures of , first, what passersby on the campus
actually see as they walk down Prospect Street in Princeton,
and, second, the ugly "invisible" Prospect Street parking
garage as hidden by the ivy-covered brick wall
what people walking down Prospect St. street actually see
Prospect St. garage as it "invisibly" exists behind
the ivy-covered wall
The first picture
shows what passersby at Rutgers could be seeing if a similar
garage and ivy-covered wall were put in place in the Union St-College
The MGP proposals
also contained a warning. Once funding was voted through for
the College Ave project, MGP pointed out, there would immediately
be a tremendous problem with New Jersey political corruption.
The current indictments of prominent New Jersey politicians,
as well as the revelations about wholesale bribery and payoffs
at the NJCMD, are, as everyone knows, simply the tip of the iceberg
as far as NJ corruption is concerned.
construction and cheapjack architecture of Scott Hall and the
River Dorms are widely attributed to the "pay to play"
system of political corruption that began to influence Rutgers
shortly after the 1956 legislation that established it as the
state university of New Jersey.
If the legislature
sets aside $300-400 million for the College Ave project, there
will enormous pressure to award contracts to architects and contractors
with connections to local politicians. The result will be more
"slum campus," more Scott Halls, more River Dorms,
and a huge waste of public money.
The only way
to avoid this is to insist on an independent commission of prominent
New Jersey citizens, including Rutgers alumni, who will monitor
every step of the contracting and building process outlined above.
An independent firm of accountants without ties to the Board
of Governors or Board of Trustees should be chosen by the Governor
to examine and make public all documentation relating to the
College Ave renovation. If a spotlight is kept on every step
of the process throughout, political corruption can be prevented
from destroying the Rutgers that might otherwise enter a period
of real distinction during the 21st century.
"As a graduate student
once said to me, describing his school: 'All the windows were
filthy, paint and plaster were scabbing off the walls in the
dining hall, and the streets were full of trash. The place looked
like shit, and it made me feel like shit'."
Alison Lurie, New York Review of Books, 4 Dec 2008
The TEN Architectos Aesthetic
When plans for the "transportation
hub" were unveiled at a recent press conference, a representative
of TEN Architectos, one Mark Dwyer,
offered an amazing rationalization for making the center of the
College Avenue campus over into something that looked like an
airport or a shopping mall.
Wasn't there something sort of horrible,
Mr. Dwyer was asked, about putting a hideous glass-and-aluminum
airport structure right next to traditional Georgian architecture
like the College Ave gym?
Mr. Dwyer was ready. He took the occasion
to announce a whole new aesthetic theory cooked up there at TEN
Architectos. It is this: if you put something incredibly
ugly right next to something nice or beautiful, it will make
people notice the the beautiful thing even more. The
Targum reported this epochal moment in the TEN Architectos
"It's a contradiction, in a way,
of treating historic architecture where you don't try to do something
halfway in between," Dwyer said. "You simply set it
apart, and it actually highlights things like the gymnasium by
being something foreign. The plans for the new transit hub, stylistically,
will look nothing like the gymnasium, so you will actually notice
the historical piece more."
This is a terrific theory. A museum that
owns a Vermeer, for instance, could double the aesthetic
impact of the painting by putting a canvas covered with pigeon
droppings right next to it. To adopt Mr. Dwyer's reasoning, "The
pigeon droppings would look nothing like the Vermeer, so you
would actually notice the Vermeer even more."
In the same way, putting a New Jersey
strip mall down among the forests and lakes and rolling hills
of northern Vermont would enhance
the landscape, because, in the world imagined by TEN Architectos,
"The shopping center would look nothing like the Vermont
countryside, so you would actually notice the countryside even
Or music. Take music. "We plan on
banging on garbage cans and screaming and blowing foghorns inside
the auditorium the next time the Guarneri String Quartet performs
Mozart, because the incredibly loud racket will actually make
the audience notice Mozart's music even more."
Well, who needs Vermeer, or an unspoiled
rural countryside, or Mozart, or traditional Georgian architecture?
It is the age, after all, of pigeon droppings and strip mall
architecture. It is, as Tom Wolfe says, a tidal wave overwhelming
our culture. How much explaining does a tidal wave have to do?