West Building

Architect: Robert Geddes

Date of Construction: 1968-1971

Materials: glass, pour-in-place concrete, teak wood

Floors: 3

Use: office complex

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Part of a $4-million undertaking, the West Building by Robert Geddes (Geddes, Brecher, Qualls, and Cunningham) serves as an academic office building. Built from 1968-1971, along with the Dining Hall situated across a birch courtyard, the West Building exemplifies brutalist style Modern architecture.  Robert Geddes, at the time the dean of the Princeton School of Architecture, conceived the West Building to fit all of the School of Natural Sciences Faculty and Members into one building.(1) Geddes was charged by the Institute’s faculty to “‘encourage people who are doing research in neighboring offices and in overlapping scientific fields to talk with each other about their common interests. […] [They wanted] the building to communicate a sense of collaboration, warmth, and friendliness while facilitating quiet, individual study'”(2).

The West Building is an elegant combination of architecture and nature and affords the members of the Institute for Advanced Study views of its beautiful grounds. Geddes combines space, scale and a human element to the design to overwhelm but to leave a lasting impression of thoughtful architecture.(3) The three-story complex is built with poured-in-place concrete (still with the rough wood-cast patterns), glass and teak that all intermingle to provide a play of colors, textures, and surfaces. The inner courtyard created by the West Building and the Dining Hall, designed by Robert Zion (Zion and Breen Associates), provides a peaceful garden of birch tress  that further the richness of color and texture. The two buildings that take up about 80,000 square feet are connected by this courtyard and by connecting bridges.(4)

The long sides of the West Building are composed of repetitive squares that form a modular, but flexible grid.(5) Each square contains three windows set into warm teak walls that are recessed and framed by angled concrete slabs. The concrete acts as barriers from direct sunlight while still permitting plenty of natural light to illuminate the offices that they contain.

The north (courtyard) side’s facade has one ribbon of the modular squares on the top floor that overhangs two floors made primarily of windows. The grid of squares are supported by pilotis that are rooted in a red glazed patio that over looks the birch garden. The courtyard is encased by concrete walls that reach the second story of the West Building. Two elegant exterior staircases bring curvilinear elements to the structure; one stair is within the courtyard while the other is on the east end. The stairs are finished with the same glazed red tiles of the patio.  The ground level entrance on the south side of the building also contains an interior concrete staircase that reaches to the third story. The flat roofline of both buildings line up with the already existing campus architecture and help create an uninterrupted sense of place and unity through the campus.(6)

(1) Huxtable, Ada Louise. “Architecture at the Head of its Class”. The New York Times. 27 September, 1972. Print.

(2) “The Institute Letter; 25th Anniversary of the Friends of the Institute for Advanced Study”. The Institute for Advanced Study. Spring 2005. Print and Web. 28 March, 2011.

(3) Huxtable, Ada Louise.

(4) Huxtable, Ada Louise.

(5) Huxtable, Ada Louise.

(6) Huxtable, Ada Louise.


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