Glass Railings Complement Collegiate Gothic Structure

In with the new, but keeping much of the old, works for renovation at Princeton.

More than 3,300 ft. of Trex ornamental railing achieves a modern, vibrant feel while allowing the character of the building to shine through at Princeton Univ. Photo: Ricardo Barros (barros.com)

When renovating a historic structure at the center of a prestigious university campus, one must make every effort to ensure the traditional, Ivy-league feel remains intact, even while adding modern elements of architecture and design. This was the challenge presented by Princeton Univ.’s (Princeton, NJ), 20 Washington Road renovation.

Built in 1929 as the Frick chemistry laboratory, the collegiate Gothic structure had been vacant since the department relocated in 2010. The renovated facility will house the university’s economics and international studies programs, centralizing those two academies that were previously scattered in multiple buildings across campus.

The challenge was to add a modern look and feel (interior and exterior) to one of the most prominent campus buildings clad in the same argylite stone, limestone-framed windows, and vaulted ceilings as the majority of the heritage campus buildings for which this and many other Ivy League schools are known.

Historic meets contemporary

According to KPMB Architects, Toronto (kpmb.com), selected to lead the renovation, the design concept focused on “an extensive transformation of the interior into a light-filled, accessible learning environment with a coherent system of corridors and public spaces while preserving the historic character of the exterior and key primary interior spaces, particularly the entry and the second-floor library.” The facility also called for the creation of additional entrances to help bring the community together, hence the renovation of the existing atrium at the Washington Road entrance and a second atrium adjacent to Scudder Plaza, a focal point and causeway for the university campus.

Trex Commercial Products, Minneapolis (trexcommercial.com), was selected to provide more than 3,300 ft. of ornamental railing for the project to achieve a modern, vibrant feel while allowing the character of the building to shine through. A variety of glass-paneled railings, inside and outside the facility, offer unobstructed views of the original architecture and modern additions. This not only allows natural light into the complex, but also complements the building’s new character.

The renovated building features custom stainless-steel flat-bar handrail, 825 ft. of which is wall mounted. Photo courtesy Trex Commercial Products

On the exterior, a newly created bridge is framed by Trex’ Point-series glass railing with 1-in. laminated, tempered low-iron glass that affords a clear view of the structure’s original external masonry. The building’s three-story main atrium features suspended, glass-walled meeting rooms, multi-level stairs, and balcony overlooks encompassing more than 950 ft. of Point-series railing that adds a minimalistic look to the space. The railings’ custom fascia-mounted stainless-steel nodes are countersunk into the glass, and attached using stud-weld to a steel stringer. An 18-gauge stainless-steel top cap sits on the 1-in. thick low-iron glass with PVB interlayer to create a one-of-a-kind look throughout the facility. The same glass-railing system can also be found on exterior balconies overlooking campus on the west side of the structure.

More than 1,200 ft. of Track Rail system was used throughout the facility, including multi-level stairs, balcony overlooks, and fire-shutter barriers. For this system, the aluminum-shoe profile is mounted on a steel angle that is welded to the side of the stair stringer. To provide a consistent look and feel throughout the interior, the 1-in. tempered, laminated glass with stainless-steel top cap that was used in the Point-supported system was also used within the Track Rail system. A custom gray gasket finishes off the top of the base-shoe system after the glass has been set to achieve the desired look.

Another unifying element to the system is the custom stainless-steel 5/8-in. x 2-in. flat-bar handrail fabricated with stainless-steel standoffs with #4 finish, and NOMMA #1 that was used on all welds throughout the building’s stairs and overlooks. This same custom-designed handrail carries over to the custom post-supported railing on multiple facility ramps using the flat bar and posts and a 4-in.-wide, 3/8-in. thick continuous stainless-steel base that was epoxy anchored into the structure.

By using glass and unobtrusive mounting structures, the products provide a contemporary look while preserving the building’s heritage components. Trex was also able to open a window to the future by using recyclable materials throughout, contributing to the university’s desire of achieving LEED gold status for the project.


— Get information on the Point series.

— Access information on the Track Rail system.

— Design a railing system.

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