The following article was featured as a Letter to the Editor in the Time of Trenton and can be found online at NJ.com
Written as part of the My Favorite Places Series:
National Architecture Week is being celebrated April 10 – 16. The week is designed to increase the public’s attention of architecture’s role as a force for positive change in our communities. This article, one of a series of “My Favorite Places” pieces, shares an architect’s unique perspective on a local place, focusing on both the location’s design and the broader impact that the design has on the lives of those it touches.
I call it the hidden garden.
Nestled in the center of the Princeton University campus, there is a garden behind one of the university’s oldest buildings, Prospect House. Currently, this building functions as a private dining club for the university’s faculty and staff, but it previously housed past university presidents. When Woodrow Wilson presided over the school, his wife fenced in the garden and laid out the flower garden we see today, which is actually shaped like the university’s seal. A combination of tulip trees, an American beech and annual plants and flowers make up the design.
The garden is ‘hidden’ in the sense that the Prospect House obscures its view from the rest of the campus. The garden is set at grade with the basement level of Prospect House while the building is set on a bunker. A later renovation of the basement provides a full glass front stepping out to the garden. Sitting in the casual dining room at basement level gives off the feeling of an outdoor experience while sitting inside.
To the other side, the garden is surrounded by tall, manicured evergreens planted in a half circle to create a visual barrier from the rest of the campus to the east. During Wilson’s time at Prospect House, “students began to take shortcuts across the lawns and garden,” which made this measure necessary.
Now that it’s a place that can be enjoyed by the public, I visit the garden rather frequently, especially in the summer. With its history and seclusion, I find it to be an ideal retreat, as the space provides fragrant flowers, the soft sounds of the central fountain, leisurely walking paths and calming views within the garden and the house.
Both the house and gardens are excellent pieces of landscape design, architecture and planning, which can, once again, be enjoyed by all.
Megan Pritts, Assoc AIA