Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts, a decade in the making, now open at Princeton University

Photo by Jaclyn Sweet courtesy of the Princeton University Office of Communications.

The academic year at Princeton University began a little over a week ago, and the new Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts is already full of activity, from dance classes and orchestra rehearsals to set design work for plays.

More than a decade in the making, the new arts complex is part of a $330 million project the university has dubbed the arts and transit neighborhood. At 22 acres, the arts area is the biggest single project in the school’s history, Princeton University Architect Ron McCoy told reporters at a media tour of the complex on Monday afternoon.

The new Lewis Center for the Arts is located at the intersection of Alexander Street and University Place near the McCarter Theatre Center. Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the complex significantly expands the rehearsal, performance and teaching spaces for the arts and supplements existing teaching, exhibition, practice, and performance spaces on the campus.

Holl, an internationally renowned architect, is a 2012 American Institute of Architects Gold Medalist who has designed landmark arts venues around the world, including the forthcoming expansion of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The Lewis Arts complex anchors the development that includes two restaurants — Cargot Brasserie and the Dinky Bar & Kitchen, both located in the historic former Dinky train station buildings. The arts and transit neighborhood also includes a new Dinky station about 460 feet south of the old station. While Princeton residents embraced the proposal for an arts complex, the Dinky move created a great deal of controversy in the community and more than one lawsuit was filed to attempt to stop it. The new station features a heated and air-conditioned indoor waiting room, outdoor plaza, bike share station, and a new Wawa convenience store. The renovations to the former train station buildings and the new Princeton Station and Wawa were designed by architect Rick Joy.

University officials recently announced that internationally acclaimed artist Maya Lin has been commissioned to create work for the grounds next to the new arts complex. Lin is a 2016 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and first achieved national recognition for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The new 145,000 square-foot arts complex includes three buildings: the Wallace Dance Building and Theater, the New Music Building, and the Arts Tower.

The Wallace Dance Building and Theater houses the Lewis Center for the Arts’ programs in dance, theater, and music theater, as well as the Princeton Atelier. The building includes the Wallace Theater, a black box theater that seats up to 150 people in flexible configurations, and the Hearst Dance Theater, which seating up to 120 people. Both venues feature state-of-the-art LED theatrical lighting. The building also includes several new dance and theater studios.

Supplementing the Woolworth Center for Musical Studies, the New Music Building includes instructional, practice, and research facilities.The building houses the Lee Music performance and rehearsal room, providing rehearsal space for the Princeton University Orchestra and other ensembles, as well as space for chamber concerts. It also features a jazz studies studio and several other specialized teaching facilities and practice rooms equipped with dozens of new pianos from Steinway & Sons. School officials said the space in the building for practice and rehearsals will free up Richardson Auditorium for more performances.

The complex also includes the Co-Lab, a flexible “white box” space for artistic collaborations, and the Arts Tower. The tower includes s gallery, administrative offices, and more studios. The Lewis Center’s program in visual arts will present exhibitions in a new gallery in the tower while expanding at 185 Nassau Street as well.

All three buildings are connected at ground level by the Forum, an 8,000 square-foot open indoor gathering space that will serve as a lobby for the various arts venues in the complex and as an additional informal performance space. An outdoor plaza with a reflecting pool is located above the forum at ground level, and skylights in the pool filter natural light into the forum below.

Members of the public can visit the new arts complex and enjoy performances and exhibition Oct. 5 through 8  as part of “Festival of the Arts.” The festival to celebrate the opening of the complex includes more than 100 concerts, plays, readings, dance performances, art exhibitions, presentations, film screenings, and community workshops at several venues across the campus. Most of the events are free.

An exhibition by Steven Holl Architects on the design and development of the complex will be on view in the Co-Lab. The exhibition opens on September 15 and runs through November 1. At 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 5 in McCosh 10, University Architect Ron McCoy, architectural critic and Vanity Fair Magazine Contributing Editor Paul Goldberger; and Princeton University Art Museum director James Steward will discuss the architecture of Steven Holl.

Michael Cadden, chair of the Lewis Center, said school officials are excited to share the new complex with the public.

“The light-filled spaces of Steven Holl’s design of new Lewis Arts complex will fire the imaginations of our current and future students, faculty, guest artists, and audiences,” he said. “This is an arts laboratory worthy of Princeton’s status as a world-class research university – a symbol, in Paul Muldoon’s words, of ‘Princeton in the service of the imagination.’ We invite the world to come party with us – both in and around our new buildings and at events across a campus now fully mapped with arts venues.”

Photo by Denise Applewhite courtesy of the Princeton University Office of Communications.
Photo by Denise Applewhite courtesy of the Princeton University Office of Communications.


    1. Mr. McCoy is referring to the entire site — the buildings plus the restaurants, Wawa, train station and more.

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