Princeton International Atrium

Finalist 2020

To commemorate the new Louis A. Simpson International Building, we were asked to create a distinctive spatial identity that celebrates Princeton University’s international approach to education and research. We designed a floor installation that spans three levels and 7200 sq. ft., featuring quotations from global authors. The concentric pattern comprises thousands of dots, lines, and silver vinyl letters sealed beneath permanent coats of epoxy and matte polyurethane to appear engraved directly onto the tile.

The installation represents Princeton University as a beacon out onto the world, beginning in the center of the atrium and emanating outwards in all directions. Subtle and evanescent, the design is inspired by these lines from Ulysses: “All experience is an arch wherethro’ / Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades / For ever and forever when I move.”
Typography is set in the delicate and distinctive typeface Danmark, a serif stencil font by A2-TYPE that is itself comprised of lines and dots.

The project was commissioned in the final six months of building construction to represent the ethos of the Princeton's international programs as separate and distinct from its renowned economics program, which shares the building. While the economics department is introverted and private, embracing the austerity of the architecture by renowned Toronto firm KPMB, the international programs desired a more public welcome that expressed their identity in space. However, the design requirement was to appear light-touch, as not to compete with the architecture or a previously-commissioned artwork by Shahzia Sikander.

The most challenging design consideration was how to seal the  graphics so that they would not be picked by foot traffic. After the careful application of vinyl, the entire floor area was coated with epoxy that turned it glossy. Then, a thin coat of polyurethane restored the original matte appearance of the porcelain tile and offered added protection.

Throughout the day, sunlight travels across the atrium, illuminating different quotes at different times. As the visitor walks over the floor, quotes begin to appear. As they move away from each section, the design recedes from view. Looking down into vertical openings, visitors can clearly read the quotes on lower-level hallways. Stair landings also have the concentric motif applied to them, following the same arc as the atrium. Because the content is poetic rather than didactic, people visit and revisit each quote, taking in new lessons each time.

A new building on the Princeton University campus was home to two entities, each with their own atrium: the economics department and our client, the international programs. The goal was to differentiate the space and to project a welcoming gesture to the entire campus community and the world.

We designed a minimalist yet expansive typographic floor installation, spanning 7200 sq. ft over three levels. Featuring inspiring quotes by international authors in silver vinyl on matte porcelain tile, the work was sealed under invisible layers of epoxy and polyurethane.

Spatial identity graphic design and installation supervision across three levels and 7200 sq. ft.

The work was widely celebrated on the Princeton University campus, particularly at the building's dedication. Said Anastasia Vranchnos, Vice Provost for International Initiatives, “The design captured our international aspirations and adds identity to the building. My participation in facilitating this design goes down as one of the things I’m most proud of during my tenure.”

Our firm's partners were invited to advise the Campus Iconography committee. Additionally, the project was recognized by Type Directors Club and Society of Typographic Arts 100 awards for design excellence.

Design Firms: 

Isometric Studio

Client: 

Princeton University

Project Area: 

7200 sq. ft.

Open Date: 

October 2017

Project Budget: 

$100,000 USD

Photo Credits: 

Isometric Studio

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