Unfortunate Apses

The apse is an ancient and useful architectural motif, so it is hardly surprising to find examples on campus. However, in order to be taken seriously, the apse should be the focal point of a grand space in a large building. Unfortunately, Princeton University seems to view the apse as just another way to add curved walls to modest, rectangular office buildings.

Below are the apses of Fisher Hall (left) and McCosh Health Center (right).

Wu Hall (below) has little apses on both ends!

Corwin Hall (below left) has an apse-like entrance, and Bowen Hall (below right) has a low, bloated apse.

Finally, Lewis Thomas Lab (below left) incorporates a shallow apse in the hope that it will not look too much like a Purina Dog Chow box, and the Computer Science Building (below right) has a broad, apse-like entrance.

None of these apses are attached to really large spaces. Historically, the apse is set in a basilica (below left), and the emperor or bishop was seated in this space, illuminated by large windows. An alternative use is to provide a space with a panoramic view; thus the bridge of an ocean liner such as the Queen Mary (below right) might be a shallow apse.

The only apse at Princeton that even remotely aspires to this ideal is one in the dining room of Wu Hall (below top), where the buffet table is the focal point of the apse. Elsewhere, the apses are subdivided into offices, hallways, or little meeting rooms (as in Lewis Thomas, below bottom). Sic transit gloria mundi, I suppose.

Once again we must ask, could things be worse? And again, yes! Dimly recognizing that the conventional apse is a bit banal, the architect of Bloomberg Hall (below) has built a "negative apse" of sorts: a concave bay window through which one's view is even more highly restricted than one would have through a conventional flat wall. Aaaarrrrghh!!