CELEBRATING THE PRINCETON CAMPUS IDENTITY
PROMOTE A DIVERSITY OF SOCIAL SPACES AND HIGHLIGHT THE IMPORTANCE OF SERENDIPITOUS ENCOUNTERS
INTEGRATE WITH LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES AND BROADER COMMUNITIES
PROMOTE RENEWAL OF FACILITIES AND THE EFFICIENT USE OF SPACE
RESPOND TO EMERGING PEDAGOGICAL TRENDS
IMPROVE ACCESS TO CAMPUS WITHOUT INCREASING THE IMPACT OF PRIVATE AUTOMOBILES
INTEGRATE CAMPUS AND SUSTAINABILITY PLANNING
CONSIDERING THE FUTURE OF THE PERIPHERAL LANDS
Several key issues emerged from background research, discussions within the campus planning team, and meetings with University and community stakeholders. The issues discussed below provide a synthesis of what was heard during Phase One of the planning process, highlighting the primary opportunities and challenges facing Princeton today that the 2026 Campus Plan will need to address.
President Eisgruber describes Princeton University as “a special and varied place.” This brief phrase captures the essence of the University for those familiar with it, and his elaboration on the statement paints an even more evocative picture:
“Princeton is home to world-class research laboratories, wondrous libraries, inspiring art, graceful architecture and charming landscapes. But at Princeton’s core are the devoted and talented students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends who care about this University like no other. They form an inclusive community centered on this campus but extending throughout the nation and around the globe, where its members strive to live up to the University’s informal motto: to be “in the nation’s service, and in the service of all nations”
Certainly part of the magic of the Princeton setting is the architecture. The best American and global architects of the last two centuries have shaped the campus with buildings that are individually impressive and often in direct conversation with one another.
Despite the variety of architectural styles on campus, most areas have a consistent human scale that is essential to the University experience. Buildings generally complement one another and contribute to a welcoming, intimate pedestrian setting outdoors. The intimate scale is maintained indoors as well, and small class sizes and meaningful interaction with faculty are valued and considered the essence of Princeton.
Perhaps the most powerful and unifying element of the campus identity is the Princeton landscape. The careful arrangement of buildings within the landscape has resulted in a harmonious mix of buildings and topographical shifts, some formal, some loose, that together favor a robust landscape as the cohesive element. Landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) note that the landscape communicates a relaxed, organic feeling that establishes a more experiential rather than formal campus context. This sense of informality is what makes the Princeton campus so captivating: Princeton’s landscape “impresses precisely because it seems so unconcerned with trying to impress.”
Garden-like plantings and varied outdoor spaces are linked by an extensive network of graceful pedestrian walks and paths that support this experiential campus setting. The system of major east-west campus walks and the complementary and criss-crossing diagonal and north-south pathways create a welcoming pedestrian network that threads through a diverse range of smaller landscapes, while keeping cars in the background. The campus’s landscape “language”— refined by landscape architect Beatrix Farrand— is still evident today in the open spaces graced with serene lawns and artfully placed trees, the wall plantings and flowering shrubbery, the evergreens combined with deciduous trees and the natural woodlands. These enduring ideas continue to guide campus landscaping and have led to more naturalized and sustainable landscapes integrated with the larger campus buildings of recent decades.
The beauty of the campus has an enduring impact on those who experience it, and Princeton alumni commonly reflect that the University campus enhanced their learning, and that it continues to symbolize their Princeton experience. Of course there are exceptions to the common conception of the Princeton campus identity. As previously noted, many buildings and campus areas created in the modern architectural style have increased in scale and decreased in landscape cohesiveness as the campus has expanded and modernized to accommodate growth and modern space needs. There is a noticeable difference in experience between the older and newer areas of campus, and a sense that the campus planning principles that created a unique sense of place on the central campus do not apply to many peripheral sites. This will be a central challenge for the 2026 Campus Plan to address: how can the University continue to evolve and grow while retaining and extending the essential campus characteristics that help to create the Princeton experience?
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) has more than a decade of experience planning and shaping Princeton’s iconic outdoor setting. The firm is also an integral part of the 2026 Campus Plan team, providing design input and valuable perspectives on the campus environment. In this essay, Michael Van Valkenburgh shares his understanding on the structure, function and experience of the Princeton landscape, which is simultaneously subtle and deeply impactful. Michael also reconsiders the description of the campus as “park-like” and calls for a deeper understanding of its true character and potential.
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Community is fundamental at Princeton University. The sense of community and the forming of relationships are primarily a function of the University’s traditions, engaging academic environment, and the vast constellation of social and extracurricular opportunities on campus. At the same time, space plays an important role in fostering a sense of community, and there are many who feel there is an opportunity to improve community-building through changes to the physical campus itself.
Not surprisingly, proximity and distance are identified as important factors in whether or not a there is a strong sense of community within specific campus areas. For instance, multi-disciplinary centers such as the Woodrow Wilson School place great importance on the proximity of their faculty members to each other and the centrality of their building on campus in order to build a true community of academics from various disciplines. Where proximity to other University departments is lacking, there is a sense of disconnection and isolation. Staff members with offices in 701 Carnegie Center appreciate the community-supportive design within their individual building, but feel less connected to the broader campus community—and to some extent the academic mission—because of their reduced contact with students and faculty members. However, relatively remote locations do not automatically result in a sense of isolation. Students living in Forbes College enjoy one of the most tight-knit communities at Princeton, despite their location at the western edge of the main campus.
Students have also noted that the design of the residential colleges can affect the sense of community within the dormitories. Some students observe that entrance way-based residences fragment the floors in dormitories and reduce opportunities for casual interaction. Conversely, many hallway-based residences—particularly those with well-integrated social spaces on each floor—are recognized for supporting interaction and a sense of community.
For graduate students, there is a perceived lack of campus space designed with their needs in mind. Graduate housing tends to be at the edges of campus, and there is a dearth of graduate student-specific study and social spaces. As a result, many graduate students do not feel part of the Princeton experience, which is noticeably more cohesive for undergraduate students.
The 2026 Campus Plan will need to consider the types of spaces, and the relationships between them, that can best contribute to the sense of community at Princeton. This will require careful analysis of building design, land use patterns, indoor and outdoor social space, and strategies to overcome physical distance. These analyses will be especially critical for determining if and how to expand the University into more peripheral areas.
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Princeton students devote themselves to their studies and to pursuing their other passions between classes, and their high degree of academic and extracurricular engagement consumes most of the day—and often the night.
Supporting students’ academic and extracurricular ambitions remains a central priority for the University, but there is also an emerging emphasis on the importance of less-structured social life on campus. One of the essential benefits of the Princeton experience is simply to be part of the Princeton community, with the potential to meet and share ideas with students, faculty, and staff members with diverse expertise and perspectives. To increase the potential for these unstructured, serendipitous encounters, students, staff members, faculty, and administrators have suggested that campus spaces should facilitate social mixing outside of the specialized academic and extracurricular groupings and settings within which many people at Princeton spend their time.
Individuals interviewed by Urban Strategies commonly suggested new café spaces, or new campus hubs similar to the Frist Campus Centre as possible pan-university spaces. President Eisgruber has also placed great emphasis on diverse interactions and encounters at Princeton. He notes that the sheer range of perspectives on campus is invaluable:
“One of the things that you will discover as your own Princeton story unfolds is that you are surrounded here by an extraordinary collection of people with remarkable perspectives to share. Over dinner, on the path to class, or in late-night conversations, they will offer insights and pose questions that will linger for a lifetime. Rarely, if ever, will you find yourself immersed in an environment with so many resources for exploring life’s largest questions.” – Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber ‘83, Opening Exercises 2014
Creating the spaces and places that will foster these valuable interactions is emerging as one of the priorities of the 2026 Campus Plan.
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The Princeton experience and the Princeton campus are inseparable. The campus is designed to meet the full range of students’ needs, from academics and physical activity, to social life and extracurricular engagement, to dining and a broad spectrum of health and support services.
For many incoming students, the fact that campus life is fully on campus is a major draw to the University. Many residents of the neighboring communities also cherish the campus, and see it and the programs it offers as an amenity within the region that is open to the public, although others are not aware of how much it offers to them. There is a sense on and off campus that more can be done to integrate the University and surrounding communities. It has been suggested that the campus experience is so complete that most students are able to exist in an “orange bubble” and do not often venture into neighboring communities for socializing, entertainment, service or other forms of interaction with the community, and that some members of the community do not feel as welcome on campus as they could be.
There is an important opportunity to increase and improve interaction between the Princeton campus and its neighbors. The 2026 Campus Plan will explore how campus design, land use, and transportation on the main campus and potentially the peripheral lands can enhance campus-community integration.
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Today, Princeton University has approximately 9 million gross square feet of space.
Princeton’s campus consists of buildings of varying age, durability and condition. Nearly 40% of building space on campus was constructed before 1951. These older buildings tend to be valued more in comparison to the buildings constructed between 1951 and 1990, which represent 32% of building space on campus. Since 1991, more complex and higher quality buildings have been added which account for nearly 30% of Princeton’s current building stock.
A key issue for the 2026 Campus Plan is the extent to which Princeton’s existing facilities meet the University’s current needs, and what changes to physical spaces or space utilization may be required to accommodate future growth.
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Princeton prioritizes highly personal forms of teaching in intimate instructional settings, yet recent developments in pedagogical practice are presenting a need for new kinds of spaces. As Princeton explores its need to accommodate future growth, there may be space needs related to the changing nature of education.
Princeton’s long-standing emphasis on active learning requires space for team-based activities, small group work, collaborative exercises, case studies and other interactive methods based on students working together to explore, test, problem-solve and create.
Members of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee and administrators from the School of Engineering and Applied Science have expressed the importance of building entrepreneurial ecosystems that include incubator and interaction space, where students can draw on the expertise of entrepreneurs or develop their ideas or simply create works for their courses. In other cases, there is a need for facilities that can accommodate academic, corporate, and non-profit research collaborations that may lead in new research directions.
The importance of learning outside of the classroom is well understood. At Princeton, individual and drop-in tutoring, graduate and faculty research mentorship programs and collective studying are growing in popularity and there is a need to provide facilities that support this type of use. Princeton is also home to a number of inter-disciplinary centers and initiatives that extend collaboration and learning outside of the classroom.
Other trends, such as the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), have the potential to improve teaching and learning for students on campus, as well as for distant learners. While Princeton and the rest of the world wait to see the full effect of this technology, Princeton’s greatest asset is the experience and environments it provides for learning.
The Campus Plan will consider emerging pedagogical trends and the directions from the strategic planning process to ensure that existing and future facilities are aligned with teaching and learning needs. The Campus Plan will identify a range of opportunities for supporting alternative learning styles by considering the features, users, flexibility, size and location of new spaces along with the needs of each department. The campus plan will also explore opportunities to support informal learning by extending learning outside of the classroom and into the fabric of buildings and the campus landscape.
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Though the Princeton campus is well served by the state, municipal and University-owned road network, vehicular circulation is constrained, and has been for some time. Recurring traffic congestion on US Route 1 is a significant concern for area residents, local politicians, regional and state agencies, as well as many members of the University community.
Congestion “hotspots” are primarily located at key junctions of US Route 1 with roads into Princeton, including the intersections at Washington Road and Harrison Street. Additionally, the Alexander Street bridge crossing Lake Carnegie is often congested during peak travel times, further impacting campus traffic flow, access and circulation. The quality, size and flooding conditions of these bridge entries to campus will be assessed as part of the 2026 Campus Plan.
Discussions with local municipalities and the State Department of Transportation (NJDOT) regarding improvements to Route 1 are ongoing. Upgrades to the interchanges at Washington Road and Harrison Street, as well as a potential road-widening in selected areas, are of particular importance to the University and will play a significant role in framing the transportation and movement discussion as part of the 2026 Campus Plan.
In recent years, many advances have been made to promote non-single occupancy vehicle travel to and from campus, including implementation of and enhancements to the TigerTransit shuttle service and promotion of car and bike sharing programs. More initiatives are needed to encourage alternative means of transit which can help to reduce traffic congestion and the need for parking while also meeting larger sustainability objectives.
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Sustainability is inherent to good planning and will be a fundamental and highly integrated component of the Campus Plan. The concurrent development of the Campus Plan, Infrastructure Master Plan (IMP) and the next generation of the Princeton Sustainability Plan ensures an iterative, complementary and highly integrated approach.
Since the creation of the University’s 2008 Sustainability Plan, Princeton has established itself as an influential leader in the areas of energy efficiency, resource conservation and student and civic engagement. As part of the 2008 Plan, the University set ambitious goals, including a reduction in direct greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020; reduction in commuter car numbers by 15% between 2008 and 2020, and reduction in overall campus waste by 40% between 2006 and 2020.
While these priority areas and targets were at the time forward-thinking, the discourse on sustainability has evolved in recent years to a more holistic consideration of long-term survivability and growth. Contemporary sustainability thinking prioritizes a complex systems-based approach to such elements as biodiversity, the optimization of land use, promotion of transit-orientated development, risk and resiliency, and the integration of behavior change theory amongst others. Responding to this evolution, the University’s new Sustainability Plan and sustainability components of the 2026 Campus Plan will be developed iteratively within a framework that contextualizes this expanded definition.
Launched in 2013, the Sustainability Steering Council is a gathering of faculty and Cabinet-level administrators. The Council is charged with advancing the institution’s overarching goal of using the campus as a place for demonstration of sustainable systems and informing and developing leadership potential in all students, through teaching and research. The Council strives to ensure that students are equipped to meaningfully employ the principles of sustainability in their future endeavors.
The Sustainability Steering Council has recently adopted a series of principles for sustainability at Princeton. These principles will serve as the foundation for the comprehensive update to the Sustainability Plan and development of the Campus Plan Sustainability Framework.
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Princeton University has been simultaneously forward-thinking and prudent with respect to real estate, positioning the University well for the future. University administrators have had the foresight to simultaneously hold and acquire land adjacent to or near the main campus while resisting premature development of those lands in favor of gradual, disciplined University expansion over generations. The result is generally compact, walkable, cohesive campus (with some areas of exception) and an enviable reserve of land for potential future use.
The following summary lists the size, existing uses, and extent of existing development for all of the lands outside of Princeton, but within the study area:
West Windsor Lands – Size: 387 acres, Existing uses: athletics, administrative, agricultural, Existing development: 257,241 GSF
Carnegie Center (Leased) – Size: 0 acres owned, Existing uses: administrative, Existing development: 120,000 GSF
Sarnoff– Size: 83 acres owned, Existing uses: parking, Existing development: 120,000 GSF
Forrestal Campus – Size: 91 acres (B Site), Existing uses: academic, administrative, real estate, recreation, Existing development: 487,463 GSF
The 2026 Campus Plan will consider when and how the University might use these lands in the future.
Princeton University recognizes that its physical scale and location entail both opportunities and responsibilities, and is dedicated to good land stewardship from social, economic and environmental perspectives. The University considers the near- and long-term impacts of its land use decisions on neighbors and the broader region, and is sensitive to the fact that it is surrounded by neighborhoods, green spaces, and key regional commercial uses and transportation routes. Princeton adheres to land use and environmental regulations, has restored stream corridors and implemented a self-imposed carbon tax, and pursues development solutions that contribute to the region’s sustainability and economic viability. The 2026 Campus Plan will carry forward this commitment to land stewardship.
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