Frederick Fisher and Partners Frederick Fisher and Partners

The Heart of Princeton

Author: Summer Stuckey, Frederick Fisher and Partners

Every campus has a heart. The place where students, faculty, and staff just seem to naturally congregate and constantly used for reasons designers could never have imagined at the onset of the project. Sometimes the true heart of a campus is the campus green, a local coffee shop, and occasionally the student union on Main Street. At Princeton University, it’s historic Firestone Library. 

Constructed in 1948 just after World War II, Firestone Library is the last gothic structure on campus. This renovation is a turning point in campus history requiring a thoughtful sensibility in its redesign.

The University entrusted FF&P and Shepley Bulfinch to retain the library’s “DNA” and expand upon it with our own expertise. The resulting loft style interior uses openness, transparency, lighting, color, and fabric to subliminally lead visitors through the space, make them feel welcome, and inspire a sense of comfort.

Photography: Shepley Bulfinch

 Within the library, the Ellen and Leonard Milberg Gallery showcasing a collection of rare books and manuscripts is open to visitors following five long years of renovations. The vision for the space was to create an inviting atmosphere that celebrates the cherished rare items within and deconstruct the opaque barriers to these highly sensitive items with a “glass box” inviting those on the outside in. 

Photography: Shepley Bulfinch

 The color palette transitions from dark brown north-facing book cases to white south-facing book cases in a subtle geographic orientation. The North area has a discovery-hub with movable furniture for students to collaborate and use as study space. Islands of study areas are interrupted with couches and chairs to offer additional informal opportunities to explore and learn.

Photography: Shepley Bulfinch

 The notion of domesticity and transparency are woven throughout the library’s mid-century interiors with hints of modernism. Students and faculty spend tremendous amounts of time in the library for countless activities that will undoubtedly change over time.


The flexibility of the final design nurtures this diverse usage and establishes the Library as a timeless place of continuous connection, inspiration, intimacy, and learning.