Built as an ode to a famous Hong Kong businessman, Gordon Wu Ying-sheing, the Gordon Wu Hall is a postmodern multifunctional hall built at the centre of Wu’s alma mater—Princeton University. Creative establishment of the famous postmodern architect and alumni Robert Venturi, the hall is built over an area of nearly 30,000 gross square feet. Venturi built the Gordon wu hall in a partnership with Scott Brown and Associates. businessman, Gordon Wu Ying-sheing, the Gordon Wu Hall is a postmodern multifunctional hall built at the centre of Wu’s alma mater—Princeton University. Creative establishment of the famous postmodern architect and alumni Robert Venturi, the hall is built over an area of nearly 30,000 gross square feet. Venturi built the Gordon wu hall in a partnership with Scott Brown and Associates.

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Gordon Wu Hall by Robert Venturi: Centerpiece of The Butler College - Sheet1
Gordon Wu Hall ©2021 Larry Speck

Set as the keynote of the Butler College, the Gordon Wu Hall is a remarkable objectification of Venturi’s theory on complexity and contradiction. It is a subtle form of identity for the campus social life. It binds the various other surrounding dorms at an elemental level but still manages to maintain a separate identity of its own.

Gordon Wu Hall by Robert Venturi: Centerpiece of The Butler College - Sheet2
Wu Hall at Princeton University ©artonfile.com

About The Architect

Robert Venturi was a world-renowned architect who established the peak of his career post World War 2 when he questioned the tediously unvarying nature of modern architecture and its elements. Though his work is very difficult to theorize, his thought process often speaks to people through his buildings and his vast contribution to architecture. His book on complexity and contradiction in architecture was published in 1966. It was a defining point in the field of architecture. It was the theoretical account, which practically helped Venturi find a postmodern architectural style.

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Venturi’s theory of postmodernism spoke lengths about factors like the incorporation of hybridism in architecture, opposition of rigidity in modern architecture design and the need to include stylistic and symbolic elements and structural forms in the building to give them a cultural touch. However, despite so many factors and concepts in consideration, Venturi’s theories were often met with hatred.

This revelation of postmodernism, which was started by Venturi, is the backbone of many different branches of postmodern architecture, including deconstructivism, neo-futurism, and high tech architecture of the age. As whimsical as he was, Venturi often referred to himself as ‘Dennis the Menace’ of architecture.

Gordon Wu Hall by Robert Venturi: Centerpiece of The Butler College - Sheet3
Robert Venturi ©Frank Hanswijk/Venturi Scott Brown and associates

Design Philosophy Of Gordon Wu Hall

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Wu hall is the centre of five residential colleges at Princeton University. It was Venturi’s depiction of Princeton’s past and promise for the future. The Gordon Wu Hall was built as a socializing centre that could encourage the more informal modes of learning through friendships, student-teacher interactions, athletic competitions and a celebration of everything beyond classroom learning. 

Gordon Wu Hall by Robert Venturi: Centerpiece of The Butler College - Sheet4
Brick and Glass
©2021 Larry Speck
Gordon Wu Hall by Robert Venturi: Centerpiece of The Butler College - Sheet5
Gordon Wu Hall
©jpmm/flickr.com

The Gordon Wu Hall has been designed as an interactive social space for students and can host 500 people. This building is a beautiful objectification of Venturi’s theories. The Hall, like many of Venturi’s buildings, presents itself as a disposition of a building with its historical context as well as adherence to the design and structural restrictions of the immediate environment.

The Exterior Façade 

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Gordon Wu Hall runs down a strong axis at the centre of the campus. It is like a hyphen between the dorms in the vicinity. The elevational skin of the building appears to be forward while the columns are receded. The elevation is part glass and part brick, which look like a juxtaposition of surfaces and visual texture.

The brick façade appears to have many structural elements, which look like plain surfaces. There are circular columns, protruding curves on either end of the building, oversized ornamental keystones, towering repetition of mullions in windows, rectangular blocking on the ground floor just outside the dining area, along with vertical expansion joints, which are structural elements in the brick façade.

Gordon Wu Hall by Robert Venturi: Centerpiece of The Butler College - Sheet6
The Complexity and Contradiction at Wu Hall
© NJ: Princeton University

One very peculiar thing that we notice in the exterior façade on the entrance to Gordon Wu Hall is the very abstract pattern. It is a combination of shapes, colours and perforations. There is a series of windows just above the entrance, sandwiched between a series of shapes embossed in the façade.

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Gordon Wu Hall by Robert Venturi: Centerpiece of The Butler College - Sheet7
The Pattern
©Princeton University/quandom.com

These shapes are quite similar to the conic domes at the Dhaka building done by Venturi and also the Tudor chimney breasts. The marble, glass and granite panel is an example of symbolism and celebration of elements recalling the early renaissance period. This abstract panel again appears as a flat surface and, when photographed correctly, looks like an abstract drawing printed or pasted on paper or, an image in an image.

The Design Scheme

Gordon Wu Hall by Robert Venturi: Centerpiece of The Butler College - Sheet8
The Ground Floor Plan ©VSBA/greatbuildings.com

Gordon Wu Hall is adjacent to the Wilson College and modulates on the slope of the north-south axis. It is accessible to people with disabilities. The wu hall forms an identity of its own along with that of the campus when it sits in conjunction with the butler college walk, the memorial and the piazza that Venturi Scott and Brown associates created for an increased pedestrian movement. 

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The building, as on a slope, is a series of ramps, stairs and cutouts, which are used as the spillover spaces in the exterior. These spaces add more weight to the function of the building by creating valuable open spaces for interaction. The blocking of the building spanning over 29,900 gsf and three floors is quite interlaced and polyrhythmic in a way that the interior spaces flow into each other.

On entering Wu Hall, the lobby gives a sense of grandeur with an addition of a staircase to the left. This staircase has an increased volume of space by adjusting the tread of the stairs to give it a look of an Amphitheatre. The addition of large windows visually expands this small corner. A similar play of visual expansion occurs in the lounge, the administration area and the library on the upper floors.

Gordon Wu Hall by Robert Venturi: Centerpiece of The Butler College - Sheet9
The First Floor Plan ©VSBA/greatbuildings.com

On the right-hand side of the ground floor, there is the grand dining hall. Now, this zone specifically has a lot of importance in the way that Venturi has designed it to portray two things. He wanted to showcase the grandeur of renaissance dining with the comfort and cosiness of an intimate space. Thus we see that the dining area is rather an elongated space with curved windows but, at the same time, has low ceilings, large windows and wooden furniture for creating intimacy.

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The Elevation ©VSBA/greatbuildings.com

Wu hall is perhaps the best depiction of Venturi’s design approach, which goes against many ordeals of modern styled buildings. It depicts how the design isn’t about any architect’s daydream of achieving subtle clear symmetries, but about realistically approaching design and livability. 

Venturi, at Wu Hall, portrays a dance of many rhythms. There are misalignments and repetitions. Though the macro function of the site is quite clear, it is designed in a way that space allocation is open to interpretation. The binding philosophy of elements in Wu Hall stands proud to be mismatched but wonderful.

Author

Ayushi is an architect with a sensitivity towards global architecture and its cultural importance. She is also an exemplary artist which in turn helps her in capturing the essence of creative and colourful endeavours across the world.A keen interest in writing, researching and curating has led her to venture into the field of Architectural Journalism.

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