Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Old Fine Hall

Numerous sources state that Oswald Veblen largely designed the original Fine Hall, an innovative academic building that housed the Princeton University mathematics department from 1930 to 1969, and also served as home for the Institute for Advanced Study during its early years. Many will know Old Fine Hall as the location of Einstein's office when he first came to Princeton. When the math department (reluctantly) moved to the new Fine Hall in the 1960s, Old Fine Hall was renamed Jones Hall. It currently is home to the East Asian Studies Department.

In Old Fine Hall can be seen the merging of Veblen's vision for mathematics, his love of buildings, and his deep admiration for the legacy of Henry Fine, whose tragic death in 1929 had prompted the Jones family to donate funds for the building's construction. The building exemplifies the theme of "bringing together" found in many aspects of Veblen's legacy, and codified in a poem on this website.

From Veblen's own description: 'We have long felt the need for offices on the campus and now we have not only offices but actual studies, so attractive that many of us will be doing our private reading and research in these rooms rather than in our own homes. These rooms are going to be a godsend to young men on small salaries who find it hard to afford a house with a suitable study. The new building contains studies for all the permanent members of the staff and also for a certain number of advanced students. These quiet and comfortable rooms have already in two or three weeks, had a perceptible effect in drawing the group of mathematicians and mathematical physicists closer together and in promoting a spirit of cooperation."
"This increase of the solidarity of the mathematical group and its closer relationship to the physics group was definitely in mind in the planning of the common room a sort of club room and lounge for mathematicians and physicists, with a small kitchenette nearby. There is also another room of this sort reserved for professors. This is on the principle, not always understood by those who try to bring about closer relations between faculty and students, that in all forms of social intercourse the provisions for privacy are as important as those for proximity."
The next four photos are combined with text from George Dyson's book, Turing's Cathedral: Equations for gravitation, relativity, quantum theory, five perfect solids, and three conic sections were set into leaded glass windows, and the central mantel-piece featured a carving of a fly traversing the one-sided surface of a Mobius strip.

"Every little door knob, every little gargoyle, every little piece of stained glass that has a word on it, was something that Veblen personally supervised,” noted Herman Goldstine in 1985.
(The door to Einstein's office.)

“There are nine offices with fireplaces and fifteen without,” reported Veblen. “Overstuffed chairs and davenports take the place of chairs and desks and the classrooms are fitted out after the manner of private studies,” reported Science magazine. The rooms were paneled in American oak, with concealed chalkboards and built-in filing cabinets.

In April 1930, Veblen wrote to Albert Einstein requesting permission to inscribe a remark Einstein had made in Princeton in 1921—“Raffi niert ist der Herr Gott aber Boshaft ist Er nicht” (translated at the time as “god is clever, but not dishonest”)—above the fireplace in the Professors’ Lounge. “It was your reply when someone asked you if you thought that [Dayton C.] Miller’s results would be verified,” Veblen explained. “I hope you will not object to our using this ‘child of your wit.’ Einstein replied that “Lord” or “God” might be misconstrued, suggesting that what he really meant was “Nature conceals her secrets in the sublimity of her law, not through cunning.” (end of quote from Dyson)

The paneling, with its unusual and varied patterns, is built of quarter sawn oak.
Veblen describes the beautifully wrought library thus:

"The chief need was for a convenient library and suitable studies. This library was placed on the top floor so that it should be as far removed from traffic and noise as possible. In order to make it easier to enforce a rule of silence there are four talking rooms in the four corners, where we can go when we want to discuss what we have been reading.
It is very desirable that the books on physics and mathematics should be close together. The new building is next to the physical laboratory, and the mathematics and physical libraries have been combined."
Below are fuller quotes from various online sources, with links.

From a bio of Veblen on a British website:

In 1929 funds were provided for Fine Hall at Princeton and Veblen provided most of the ideas that went into its design. He wanted the mathematicians in Fine Hall to be able to:-
... group themselves for mutual encouragement and support. [It had to be a place where] the young recruit and the old campaigner [could have] those informal and easy contacts that are so important to each of them.
However he also wanted a room reserved for professors since:-
... not always understood by those who try to bring about closer relations between faculty and students [is] that in all forms of social intercourse the provisions for privacy are as important as those for proximity.

From Robert Nowlan's online biography

Veblen largely designed the original Fine Hall, named for the deceased educator. It is an architectural masterpiece with a common room on the first floor on the way to the library. Faculty did not merely have offices, they were given lavish suites to provide a comfortable place to meet and talk with students. Fine Hall served as home to the Princeton mathematics department until 1969 when the growth of faculty and students made it necessary to build a new home, also named Fine Hall.  The old building was renamed Jones Hall, to honor the family who had provided the funds for the original building. Veblen began the custom of an afternoon tea at the mathematics department, where faculty and students had the opportunity for informal contacts.


From World Scientific: Academic genealogy of Mathematicians:

Veblen took charge of this project. He visited Oxford University in 1928-29 and designed Fine Hall as “Oxford College Style”. For the interior he worked closely on the furnishings with a high-quality firm of decorators from New York. Faculty members had “studies”, not “offices”; some of those were large rooms equipped with fireplaces, carved oak paneling, leather sofas, oriental rugs, and concealed blackboards. Fine Hall included a first-class departmental library, common rooms, and other facilities.


From George Dyson's beautifully written book Turing’s Cathedral:

Thomas Jones and his niece Gwethalyn pledged an additional $500,000 to build (and maintain) a new mathematics building in memory of Fine. At the time of Veblen’s arrival in Princeton, the mathematicians shared a few small offices in Palmer Hall. “The principle upon which Fine Hall was designed,” according to Veblen, “was to make a place so attractive that people would prefer to work in the rooms provided in this building rather than in their homes.” Jones, believing that “nothing is too good for Harry Fine,” instructed Veblen to construct a building that “any mathematician would be loath to leave.”

Half a million dollars (equivalent to over $6 million today) went a long way in 1929. Fine Hall opened in October of 1931, with no detail overlooked: from the showers and locker room in the basement (“members of the department who wish to avail themselves of the nearby tennis courts or the gymnasium will not find it necessary to return to their homes to dress”) to the top-floor library with natural lighting, a central atrium, and a passageway to encourage mingling with the physicists in adjacent Palmer Hall. “There are nine offices with fireplaces and fifteen without,” reported Veblen. “Overstuffed chairs and davenports take the place of chairs and desks and the classrooms are fitted out after the manner of private studies,” reported Science magazine. The rooms were paneled in American oak, with concealed chalkboards and built-in filing cabinets. Equations for gravitation, relativity, quantum theory, five perfect solids, and three conic sections were set into leaded glass windows, and the central mantel-piece featured a carving of a fly traversing the one-sided surface of a Mobius strip. “Every little door knob, every little gargoyle, every little piece of stained glass that has a word on it, was something that Veblen personally supervised,” noted Herman Goldstine in 1985.

In April 1930, Veblen wrote to Albert Einstein requesting permission to inscribe a remark Einstein had made in Princeton in 1921—“Raffi niert ist der Herr Gott aber Boshaft ist Er nicht” (translated at the time as “god is clever, but not dishonest”)—above the fireplace in the Professors’ Lounge. “It was your reply when someone asked you if you thought that [Dayton C.] Miller’s results would be verified,” Veblen explained. “I hope you will not object to our using this ‘child of your wit.’ Einstein replied that “Lord” or “God” might be misconstrued, suggesting that what he really meant was “Nature conceals her secrets in the sublimity of her law, not through cunning.”
(For more on Dyson on this website, click here.)

Veblen's own description of Fine Hall, from the Princeton University website:

Professor Veblen made the final speech of the day. The text of his address follows: "The principal idea which has been built into Fine Hall is a very old one. It is nothing else than the idea of a university as a seat of learning. The first universities of Europe, such as Bologna, Paris, and Oxford were just loosely organized groups of learned men. The students who migrated from one of these centers of learning to another were very much the same sort of people as the graduate students and research fellows of today, poor material for the diplomatic service, but full of intellectual curiosity and sometimes having a spark of genius.

"The modern American university is a complicated organism devoted to a variety of purposes among which creative scholarship is sometimes overlooked. Those universities which do recognize it as one of their purposes are beginning to feel the necessity of providing centers about which people of like intellectual interests can group themselves for mutual encouragement and support, and where the young recruit and the old campaigner can have those informal and easy contacts that are so important to each of them.

"Such intellectual centers are provided in Princeton by a splendid group of laboratories for the experimental sciences and by McCormick Hall for the Department of Art and Archeology and the group of rooms devoted to the classics in Pyne Library. Now we have Fine Hall for the mathematicians and I hope that it will not be many years before we have analogous centers for other groups of scholars. I say analogous centers rather than similar ones, for I suppose that the historians or the philosophers will need something which differs from Fine Hall as much as Fine Hall differs from the Palmer Laboratory.

"It was a new problem to design a building for mathematics. Although there are such buildings at Chicago, Paris, Gottingen, and Jena, none of these had been finished before ours was begun. But it was not a very complicated problem in this case. There was no elaborate apparatus to provide. A pencil sharpener is about all the apparatus that a mathematician requires. There was no need for many classrooms or large lecture rooms, for there are plenty of these already on the campus. The new building has two small lecture rooms and two seminar rooms which can be used informally.

"The chief need was for a convenient library and suitable studies. This library was placed on the top floor so that it should be as far removed from traffic and noise as possible. In order to make it easier to enforce a rule of silence there are four talking rooms in the four corners, where we can go when we want to discuss what we have been reading. It is very desirable that the books on physics and mathematics should be close together. The new building is next to the physical laboratory, and the mathematics and physical libraries have been combined.

"We have long felt the need for offices on the campus and now we have not only offices but actual studies, so attractive that many of us will be doing our private reading and research in these rooms rather than in our own homes. These rooms are going to be a godsend to young men on small salaries who find it hard to afford a house with a suitable study. The new building contains studies for all the permanent members of the staff and also for a certain number of advanced students. These quiet and comfortable rooms have already in two or three weeks, had a perceptible effect in drawing the group of mathematicians and mathematical physicists closer together and in promoting a spirit of cooperation.

"This increase of the solidarity of the mathematical group and its closer relationship to the physics group was definitely in mind in the planning of the common room a sort of club room and lounge for mathematicians and physicists, with a small kitchenette nearby. There is also another room of this sort reserved for professors. This is on the principle, not always understood by those who try to bring about closer relations between faculty and students, that in all forms of social intercourse the provisions for privacy are as important as those for proximity.

"This building is not only a memorial to Dean Fine. It is a definite part of his work in constructing a great mathematical center here in Princeton. You know the outline of this story: How during a long of period of time Dean Fine seized each opportunity as it arose to strengthen his by calling in young men of promise. How its prestige gradually extended so that Princeton became known throughout the world as a center of mathematical production. How this work of construction was consolidated by the generous institution of the fund for research and science by the General Education Board and Mr. Thomas D. Jones, Miss Gwethalyn Jones, Mr. William Church Osborn, and others.

"When these things had been accomplished it became evident that a building was needed as a center for the mathematical interests of the University just as the various laboratories were headquarters for the various experimental sciences. This project Dean Fine discussed with the late Mr. Wickliffe Rose, then chairman of the General Education Board and a man who can be compared with Dean Fine and Mr. Jones for his insight into general university problems. Mr. Rose was then just at the point of retiring and the project went over to the new officers of the General Education Board who were considering it sympathetically at the time of Dean Fine's death. At this point Mr. Jones, who knew of his old friend's plans and hopes, came forward and asked President Hibben to allow him and his niece to provide the building and make it a memorial to Dean Fine.

"I believe that such a project has never been carried out in a more generous style. The donors decided that the building should be not only the matter-of-fact mathematical center which we had conceived but also a place which, as Mr. Jones expressed it, any mathematician would be loath to leave.

"In carrying out this purpose of Mr. Jones and his niece, the University was fortunate not only in having the services of an architect like Mr. Charles Z. Klauder, but also in the generosity of Mrs. John Alexander who freely contributed her trained skill and taste in the choice and arrangement of the furnishings. It is not only in providing so beautiful a building that Mr. Jones and Miss Jones showed their generosity, but in many unseen ways care has been taken and additional money spent to make the building more substantial and to reduce the cost of upkeep. Moreover, for the first time on our campus, the maintenance of the building and the renewal of the furnishings have been adequately provided by endowment.

"To return to the main point, Princeton now has a first-class home for its mathematical group. I hope that it will soon have equally good ones for the other academic groups which are not yet provided for. This is not merely because I like to see my colleagues comfortable, but because I think that it would greatly strengthen the University as a seat of learning if each natural intellectual group were so placed physically as to be automatically conscious of itself and of its relation to the University as a whole. I do not mean that this is our only great need at the present time. We need more endowed professorships right in the mathematical field. But at this moment, when we have been so generously favored, it is only just to point out that what has been done for us is of general significance and should not stop with us."

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