Honor - SCUP Excellence in Architecture for Building Additions, Renovation or Adaptive Reuse

Princeton University

Firestone Library
Princeton University - Firestone Library
Jury Comments
“the result is beautiful . . . the fact that they did such a comprehensive renovation without decanting the building is remarkable . . . nice rhythm of old an new throughout . . . paid a lot of respect to the historic architecture”


    • Building – 423,757 gsf/380,762 asf
    • The entrance’s archway portals anchor the form to a gathering plaza, harmonious with historic arts buildings, statuary, and landscape.
    • A directional spine was created, repeated on each level, accompanied by vertical expansion of stairways, uniting all floors with a common framework of pathways.
    • Along Nassau Street, a new experiential garden
      announces Firestone as a community and cultural resource.
    • In Special Collections, increased visibility of resources resulted in a doubling of collection requests, while teaching sessions increased by 150%.


A main goal and objective of the library renovation was to embrace the evolution of it as a “library of libraries” without losing its feeling of Firestone. Being one of the biggest university libraries in the nation, Firestone is the recipient of the largest number of individual private collection donations. As each was added, the library became a little less cohesive and a little more crowded. By relocating key collections, consolidating obsolete departments, and incorporating small, living room-like reading oases, and transparent interactive learning, meeting, and study spaces into the vast stack areas, outdated spaces were renewed with warmth and comfort based on contemporary ergonomics, technology, and sustainability standards.

As a historic renovation project, the design process began with research. Documents from the original construction and published accounts of the library project were combed for the original architects’ design intent, material specifications, technology, furniture, and fabric. Additionally, the building was surveyed to distinguish original building fabric from later alterations. As a result, signature spaces were strategically renovated to preserve the integrity

of the original building while most of the library was transformed into a much more transparent, light, and open environment. Developing a “both/and” design strategy respects historic buildings from dramatically different eras while accommodating contemporary functions.

Firestone remained open and fully operational throughout the decade-long renovation. The work was organized by phases in a “top down/bottom up” approach. Advance work preceding each phase began with an integrated workshop
to anticipate swing space requirements, book moves, circulation pathways, and protection of historic materials. Relocations involved rigorous and detailed conversations with staff and a communication program to inform patrons with “Renovation Updates” on the library website, directional pointers and posters, and a staffed “Bookfinder” station for updated information. As phases concluded and new spaces opened, the team evaluated subsequent patron use numbers and patterns, along with their desires. This allowed adjustments to the proportional allocation of tables, soft seating, and individual carrels. As such, the library evolved as the project progressed, and the decade-long process uniquely allowed for developing needs.

Project Team

Shepley Bulfinch; Frederick Fisher and Partners; Bruce E. Brooks & Associates; Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA); Foley Buhl Roberts & Associates; Acentech