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Lewis Center

Following four years of construction, the new Lewis Center for the Arts complex will celebrate its grand opening in a four-day festival from Oct. 5-8. The building has already been put to use for University activities and classes, and representatives from the Lewis Center for the Arts and the Department of Music, as well as architects involved in the project, gave an introductory tour of the new facilities on Sept. 25.

The new building complex will primarily house the Programs in Theatre and Dance, the Princeton Atelier, administrative offices, and rehearsal spaces for the Music Department. While the Program in Visual Arts will maintain its base at the former Lewis Center on 185 Nassau Street and the Music Department will still remain in the Woolworth Center for Musical Studies, the two will also have a presence in the new Lewis Center for the Arts complex by way of an art gallery and new rehearsal spaces, respectively.

“It’s a rare opportunity to have a project to work on that is both transformative on a kind of campus level and also transformative for the departments and programs housed within,” said Noah Yaffe, who has worked on the project with Steven Holl Architects since 2007. 

Yaffe noted three fundamental goals that guided the construction of the buildings: to maximize the presence of the arts, increase the visibility of the arts, and create the possibility for collaborative exchange among the arts.

The complex is accessible from multiple points of entry. Additionally, its size of 145,000 square feet makes it easy to spot from many parts of campus. Yaffe discussed the reason behind the decision to make the complex seep into campus in this way, explaining his hope that “along campus networks and paths, students would have a glimpse of the arts, and the arts in action. And that that chance encounter would peak their curiosity and possibly be a life-transformative experience.”

The complex is comprised of three major buildings: the Wallace Dance Building and Theater, the New Music Building, and the Arts Tower. Within these spaces are a host of performance and rehearsal venues, including dance studios, practice rooms, and a black box theater.

Wendy Heller, chair of the University Department of Music, and Michael Cadden, chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts, both emphasized the notion that the complex is above all an expansion of the arts on campus.

“We weren’t looking to relocate the arts,” said Cadden. “The idea is that the arts happen on this campus from one edge to the other edge, in all sorts of spaces, some specifically designed for the arts and some not.”

Cadden is especially proud of the collaborative nature that the new complex will allow  its inhabitants. 

“We did not want to build the ‘Arts Death Star,’” he said. Cadden went on to use the forum of the complex — an expansive, open lobby space that connects each of the buildings — as an example of how the new space seeks to encourage a vibrant, collaborative environment. “All of the performance spaces, practice spaces, pour into the forum, and of course it’s our hope that that’s where students from different arts will encounter one another and be motivated towards collaboration,” he explained. 

Cadden also stressed the idea that much of the complex will be shaped by the students and the work that goes on in the buildings in years to come. 

“We’ll know what we built five years from now, ten years from now,” he explained. “We have some ideas of what we built and how it might be used, but it's our students and our colleagues who are going to actually tell us what we built by using it in creative ways.”

Heller added that the complex is “the result of the University making a profound commitment to the arts and the notion that this is something that is not always extracurricular, and sometimes can actually be curricular.” 

Heller also explained what the new space will mean for students of music. 

“This building for us is in some ways this melding between scholarship and performance, and we want our students to break down those boundaries,” she noted. 

One of the major features of the New Music Building is the Lee Music Performance and Rehearsal Room, which will be used by the Princeton University Orchestra, among other groups. According to Heller, being inside of the room, which has adjustable acoustics and wooden panels, makes you “[feel] like you are in an instrument.” 

Heller expressed her excitement for the opportunities that students will have to practice in this space. 

“In some ways, the experience of playing in an orchestra, in a large ensemble, is such a lesson in life. How to get along with people, how to collaborate,” said Heller. “The experience [students] are going to have in this room is extraordinary."

“This is not the experience you will have in a school of music … in some ways it’s so much better because our students are really able to do the arts. We now have the space for them … to do more in both of our buildings, and to marry that with their academic work and see connections that you might not have if you are in theatre school or drama school or dance school or music school,” Heller explained.

The Wallace Theater offers an innovative take on the traditional black box theater, with the “back” of the theater sitting on a curve. The space's 150 seats are able to be configured in numerous patterns, offering great artistic freedom for each show that takes place there. According to Cadden, this black box has been considered “the best outfitted black box theatre in the United States."

"There are things possible here that ... might not be possible anywhere else," Cadden noted.

Yaffe touched on some recurring themes of the complex, including the “deep musical expressions within the building,” such as the musically-inspired carpets, lights, and even window features, and the dubbed “dancing staircase” in the Wallace Dance Building that features ballet notation within its perforated design.  

Keeping in line with the University’s focus on sustainability, the complex boasts an array of sustainable features, including LED theatrical lighting, geothermal heating and cooling, green rooftops, and a LEED Silver certification.

The upcoming Festival of the Arts will mark the opening of the new space, offering over 100 performances, most free of charge, to members of the University community and the general public.

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