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U. reveals new Art Museum plans, designed by Sir David Adjaye

Grand Hall of new Princeton Art Museum

Traditional materials will be used in the new building, as seen in this rendering of the museum’s planned Grand Hall.

Courtesy of Adjaye Associates

On Sept. 23, the Princeton University Art Museum revealed designs for its new building, for which the museum will break ground in May 2021 and finish in the fall of 2024.

The new museum will be built on the site of the current museum, doubling the square footage of the existing museum and displaying up to three times as much artwork as before. Out of the current complex, Marquand Library will remain. The museum will continue to offer free admission and plans to extend its hours.


Sir David Adjaye, founder of Adjaye Associates, serves as the project’s design architect, alongside Cooper Robertson, the executive architect. Adjaye, a visiting professor at the University’s School of Architecture from 2008–2010, is best known for designing the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Adjaye was announced as the 2021 recipient of the Royal Institute of British Architects Royal Gold Medal, the first Black architect to receive the honor.

According to museum director James Steward, Adjaye’s familiarity with the University’s culture and campus, as well as his versatility in adapting architectural styles to each project’s needs, informed the museum’s decision to work with Adjaye Associates.

Adjaye’s commitment to equity also positions him to design an inclusive and welcoming museum, Steward said.

“Architecture has to arise from humane values,” he said, adding, “[it] has so much capacity to shape the way we behave within it.” 

Steward emphasized that the museum’s architecture should be “equally welcoming to every student, given the diversity of our student body.” The new museum will be ADA-compliant, and Steward noted that the architects are exploring varying cultural definitions of concepts such as “home.”

As discussed in a talk between Steward and Adjaye on Sept. 23, the new design aims to create equitable spaces, where community members may engage with art from the globe-spanning cultures represented in the museum’s collection.


“I hope that they are really using this as a time to creatively rethink curatorial decisions and these implicit hierarchies that I think the current museum puts into place,” Kyle Barnes ’21 said of the new design.

Victoria Pan ’21 expressed a similar sentiment, drawing upon her own background as a Chinese American student, in addition to her experiences through University courses that utilized the art museum.

“Since I interacted so heavily with the East Asian and Chinese collection, it was really interesting to see an experience framed through this cultural and racial perspective,” Pan said.

“The downstairs area[s] of non-North American and European art [are] all being collected in very cramped, very small, and to me, not very well thought-out spaces,” she added, due to the architectural constraints of the current building, which was built in the 1960s.

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Acknowledging the implicit hierarchies that the museum’s current design creates, Steward noted that the new structure will house 95 percent of exhibited artwork on the second floor, but that this alone would not guarantee an equitable presentation of art.

“We’re going to be curatorially working on that over the next few years to devise an installation plan that hopefully is both logical but also privileges new kinds of storytelling,” Steward said. He indicated that this was both a privilege and a responsibility of the museum.

“I would love to see the art museum devote more space to new media art, things that are really on the cutting edge of art. Things like video art, internet art, various forms of more recent art. I think that would be really exciting and bring people in,” Barnes said. Steward indicated that infrastructure for artwork that incorporates current technology is under consideration.

The design of the new museum will include three stories and nine interlocking pavilions, built with stone, bronze, and glass. Through planned materials and outward architectural design, the museum will pay homage to the diverse architectural styles already on campus, including the neo-Gothic architecture of the Chapel and the Modernist style of Robertson Hall. The inside will incorporate wood, evoking features such as the teak detailing in the current art museum. 

“What I hope that people feel in the building is that there are memories of tradition, but that we’re not being bound and contained by those traditions,” Steward said. “We’ve tried to create spaces in the building that will evoke memories of the old.”

While the museum will physically expand, the architects are mindful not to overshadow the delicate architectural style of adjacent buildings, such as residence halls. Nonetheless, the new design will increase the museum’s visibility.

“I’ve had people ask me ‘where do I go for the art museum?’ even though they’re nearby, because you can’t really tell that it’s there,” Barnes said.

Steward told The Daily Princetonian that the new museum will have a lot of “permeability,” including “lens” windows to create views into the museum from campus and vice versa. The building will also include two “art walks,” one running from McCosh walk to Brown Hall, and the second stretching to Chapel Drive. Six entrances will be incorporated into the museum’s perimeter.

The ground floor will be devoted to educational and social spaces fitting up to 2000 people, along with additional art experiences. Steward noted that the museum is being built to account for a spectrum of social behavior, keeping in mind the social distancing required during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He added that he hopes the museum will invite community members to engage and embody the role of the University in academic leadership.

“I’m really excited for the new plans because I think they’ll really encourage students and community members and everyone to spend more time checking out the museum,” Barnes said.

While the new museum is being built, the art museum will continue to operate through the Bainbridge House and another satellite gallery yet to be set up, as well as through other programming. Collaborations with Firestone Library and the School of Public and International Affairs will continue.

Noting that the museum archives will be moved off-campus during construction, Pan said she is curious about the effect on students during that time, “in the sense of a few class years not having full access to the archives in the art museum and all the educational resources there.”

“Overall, I am really excited about the new art museum — I think it’s a really great chance to bring art and the associated conversations back to the forefront,” she said.