Princeton, New Jersey

In an age of lightning-fast mobile devices that provide access to information with the swipe of a finger, books can seem archaic. So libraries, once bastions of the printed word, have evolved to fit the new, digitized needs of their users while continuing to do something the Internet cannot: provide a centralized, three-dimensional space dedicated to writing, reading, and research. This was the impetus for revamping Princeton University's 3,100-square-foot Julian Street Library, a media center and social lounge for students belonging to Wilson, one of Princeton's six residential colleges.

To foster a sense of place in the renovated reading room, New York'based Joel Sanders Architect (JSA) devised a carefully considered lighting scheme that creates two discrete “zones,” one for communal studying and reading, the other for relaxing. In doing so, JSA has given the students of Wilson College a more modern, comfortable place to work and gather.

The library, which occupies a 1960s-era concrete building called Wilcox Hall, was founded as a “gentleman's library,” says Wilson College master and English professor Eduardo Cadava. “The idea was to fill it with the books that all gentlemen ought to be familiar with,” Cadava explains with a laugh. In its 21st-century iteration, “Princeton wanted a dynamic space that allows students to gather around digital devices,” says architect Joel Sanders.

The primary challenge presented by the old library was its compartmentalization. So JSA opened up the space by removing a masonry wall in the foyer and installing wide, tiered seats that step up toward a large communal workbench. This amphitheater-like area serves as a visual and spatial link between the entry and the main reading room, which is accessed via a ramp to the right and brings daylight beyond the entry and into the whole space. Sixteen round lighting fixtures, installed within a ceiling grid painted the same shade of bright blue as the furnishings in the space, provide an ambient glow over the seating area.

JSA carried this circular motif into the main reading room, installing disk-shaped fixtures that create pools of light along the area designated for lounging and reading (also dressed in the punchy blue of the vestibule soffit). “We thought a lot about using lighting to differentiate spaces from one another,” says Sanders. Bands of fluorescent strips above communal tables in the “quiet studying” area provide even, bright illumination. “We're also highlighting some vertical surfaces and, in doing so, making the space seem more generous overall,” says Washington, D.C.'based lighting designer George Sexton, who worked with JSA on the project. Halogen lamps highlight shelves built into the reading-room walls and give computer stations a bit of vibrancy.

All these changes have brought a welcome contemporary edge to the mid-century library, says Cadava. “We really wanted to provide students with a space that was more useful and relevant to the ways they're learning today,” he says. “It's been a real success.”


Formal name of building:
Julian Street Library, Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

Completion Date:
September 2011

Gross square footage:
3100 SF

Princeton University

Joel Sanders Architect
106 E. 19th Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10003
T: 212.431.8751
F: 212.226.9486

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Joel Sanders, AIA (JSA), Principal
Christopher Kitterman, AIA (JSA), Project Architect
Francisco Waltersdorfer (JSA), Architect
Michael Schade, AIA, LEED AP (AOS), Principal in Charge
Lisa Dustin, AIA (AOS), Project Manager

Architect of Record:
Atkin Olshin Schade
125 S 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 925-7812

Harrison-Hamnett, P.C.
40 Knowles Street
Pennington, NJ 08534
(609) 818-1808

Princeton Engineering Group, LLC
100 Forrestal Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
(609) 243-9286

George Sexton Associates
242 W. 30th Street, #1005
New York, NY 10001
(212) 736-4842

General contractor:
136 Eleventh Street
Piscataway, NJ 08854

Peter Aaron/OTTO



Entrances / Sliding doors: Dorma
Special doors: Avanti Double Glazed Solare

Locksets: Best
Closers: Dorma
Pulls: Avanti, Dorma, Rajack

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Linder
Suspension grid: Linder
Millwork: Epic Millwork
Paints and stains: Benjamin Moore
Paneling: Epic Millwork
Plastic laminate: Korogard
Carpet: Tretford
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Custom Signage, Situ Studio

Library chairs: Herman Miller, Eames Aluminum Group Management Chair
Lounge chairs: Walter Knoll, Flow chair
Tables: Custom tables by Gordon International
Upholstery: Custom upholstery by Beckenstein's Fabrics

Interior ambient lighting: USAI Lighting, Cooper, Selux
Task lighting: Prudential
Dimming System or other lighting controls: Lutron