The future of Rutgers University’s New Brunswick and Piscataway campus was the topic of a keynote speech at Thursday’s AIA New Jersey design conference.
By Joshua Burd
Frank Wong has worked for Rutgers University for 30 years, but the last five have been especially busy for the head of the school’s planning and development office.
That’s no surprise, given the high-profile projects seen at Rutgers’ flagship campus in recent years — from the “wildly successful” new 550-bed residential honors college in New Brunswick to the iconic town square and retail space known as The Yard at College Avenue.
Not to mention the sleek, architecturally distinctive business school building that opened three years ago at the revamped Livingston campus in Piscataway.
“Livingston is an example of a campus that we’ve completely turned around,” said Wong, the university’s executive director of facilities planning and development. “It was considered Siberia at Rutgers — students hated to be there, the faculty didn’t want to teach there.”
“Now, it’s a destination.”
Speaking to more than 100 New Jersey architects on Thursday, Wong highlighted those projects while offering a glimpse of what’s still to come at Rutgers. For all of the recent strides, he said, it’s only the start of what the university has in store for transforming its footprint in the region.
For instance, the school’s newly adopted master plan calls for redeveloping a collection of low-slung, disjointed buildings in the heart of its College Avenue campus. He said that, starting over the next year, Rutgers plans to raze Records Hall, a central heating plant and other buildings to make way for a new U-shaped complex that would open toward the Raritan River.
“The way that we’ve used our land is not efficient,” Wong said. “We’ve spread out with single-story buildings … and we want to reverse that. We want to build more dense, more urban, closer to transit — so that the buses maybe don’t have to go as far.
He was the first of three keynote speakers at an annual design conference hosted by the New Jersey chapter of AIA, or the American Institute of Architects. During a 45-minute presentation in Franklin’s Somerset section, Wong detailed the evolution of the university’s footprint over its 250 years in existence.
Rutgers is now in the midst of one of its biggest physical changes during that time, he said. In the past year alone, the university has welcomed has a new apartment and retail complex at The Yard, the honors college and its first new academic building in 50 years.
The new additions were built by the New Brunswick Development Corp. as part of a $300 million, public-private redevelopment effort that has bridged the historic College Avenue campus.
Wong did not detail costs or timelines for many of the components he described, but the university is now focused on building on that momentum with its additional plans in New Brunswick. A key piece of that is improving access to the Raritan River, he said, while continuing to add green space and other “connective tissue” between buildings.
“Connecting the riverfront and open spaces will help,” Wong said. “It’s not just a Rutgers benefit — it’s a regional benefit.”
Rutgers University’s new development projects follow recent efforts to improve the Livingston campus across the Raritan River, an effort that was punctuated by the opening of 150,000-square-foot business school building in 2013.
The distinctive building has drawn special praise from the New Jersey chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The organization recognized New York-based TEN Arquitectos with an Honor Award in the Built Open category, a nod to its L-shaped design that creates a gateway to the Piscataway campus.
The building is made up of two wings that are connected by a bridge suspended 60 feet above Rockafeller Road, a major campus entry point.
“We wanted to design a space that reflects the growing importance of collaboration and creativity required in today’s business and educational landscapes,” said Enrique Norten, principal of TEN Arquitectos. “The sweeping layout mimics that of a corporate office building, and the interior spaces create a shared environment between students and faculty.”