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Rubenstein Commons, Institute for Advance Study

Steven Holl Architects

Princeton, New Jersey, United States

October 2022


Steven Holl (Design Architect, Principal)


Guy Nordenson and Associates (structural engineer), Icor Associates (mechanical engineer), Transsolar (climate engineer), Hollander Design Landscape Architects (landscape architects), W.S. Cumby Inc. (general contractor


Janine Purcaro, COO of Institute for Advanced Study


Paul Warchol


Sited along a key pedestrian pathway near the center of campus and conceived as a “social condenser,” Rubenstein Commons provides a flexible gathering place for the academic community across all four Schools at IAS: Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Social Science, and Historical Studies.

The water in the reflection pools moves via gravity, starting with the west pool at the highest elevation flowing through the north and south pools, until the east pool at the low end. During the winter the pools freeze, reducing annual maintenance and providing the experience of light reflecting off ice.

A glass system was developed utilizing milled prismatic glass to create solar shading on south, east and west facades. The milled surface of the glass refracts light and functions as an integrated shading device reducing heat gain from the sun, leading to savings in energy systems and long-term operating costs. These 21 prismatic glass clerestories, together with the reflecting pools illuminate a contemplative space at the Institute of Advanced Study.

Rubenstein Commons features precast concrete wall panels with steel mezzanine and roof framing. The building's exterior framework consists of 60 unique precast concrete panels. Precast concrete streamlined the process of erecting the building, with minimal construction disruption on campus.

Rubenstein Commons was designed to meet LEED Gold standards. Its sustainable features include 20 geothermal wells, natural light galleries, transparent glass cavity wall, rainwater harvesting, green roofs, and active slab conditioning with displacement air humidity control.


The Rubenstein Commons at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, NJ, established in 1930, is a new commons building on the historic campus. It is sited near the Institute’s flagship 1939 building Fuld Hall where Albert Einstein spent his last thinking years.

The design for Rubenstein Commons is driven by the concept of intertwining. Exterior circulation weaves into and through the building. The building is a “social condenser” with a variety of flexible meeting spaces supporting community and academic life on the IAS campus. The building follows the existing topography primarily in a single level program with gradual slopes and offers views of the courtyards.

The building forms an intertwining through the landscape, connecting with pools of water on the north, south, and west. The pools reflect sunlight into interior spaces, producing an atmosphere of reflection. Natural phenomena connect with science, physics, humanities, and art—corresponding to the Institute’s mission.

The geometry of the spaces is formed by “space curves” where two non-planar curves intersect. As former IAS Director Robbert Dijkgraaf remarks, the curved ceilings give space for “thought bubbles” of the scholars.

Blackboards of natural slate, a storied tradition for intellectual curiosity and exchange at the IAS, line the interiors. Prismatic glass breaks white light into the color spectrum, energizing the interiors with natural light and color. Custom hand-blown light fixtures illuminate the curved ceiling geometry. Door handles inspired by knot theory and custom waterspouts greet visitors at the east and west entries to the building.


As a forum for discovery, curiosity, and critique, Rubenstein Commons is a space that stimulates contemplation and invites dialogue necessary for “questioning at its most profound”. As a “social condenser”, Rubenstein Commons is one of the few buildings on the IAS campus that is truly open to the public. Anyone can go to the thoughtfully illuminated bar to order a flatbread and a beverage, or read by the reflecting pools outside. This vibrant gathering space has hosted myriad formal and informal social events, ranging from scholarly workshops to a recent 2024 Oscars watch party. The IAS academic community came together to root for Oppenheimer and used the chalkboard walls to tally the film’s Oscar wins. Since its opening in 2022, Rubenstein Commons has exceeded aspirations as a campus social hub and place of intellectual exchange.

Furthermore, Rubenstein Commons served as a pilot project that would lead to campus decarbonization at IAS. The building was the first on campus to adopt geothermal heating and cooling, a precedent to the campus-wide geothermal system. A Post-Occupancy Evaluation has been planned to examine and map out further environmental improvements for the building’s energy and water use, waste generation, indoor climate conditions, sound level, and lighting comfort. Rubenstein Commons is a dynamic project that continues its evolution to minimize environmental impact while providing an intuitive experience for users.

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