Rubenstein Commons by Steven Holl Architects

Conceived as a “social condenser” for the Institute, Rubenstein Commons provides a nexus of flexible gathering spaces, supporting enhanced communication and collaboration among scholars and forming an inviting social hub for the wider IAS community.

The design for Rubenstein Commons is driven by the concept of intertwining. Exterior circulation weaves into and through the building. The building is conceived as a social condenser with a variety of flexible meeting spaces supporting community and academic life on the IAS campus.

Photo © Paul Warchol

The new 17,175-sf 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. “It has been an honor and a joy to work on such an extraordinarily important project for the Institute for Advanced Study. We only hope that the inspired feelings we had in creating and making these spaces can contribute to the future social life of the Institute” says Steven Holl.

Photo © Paul Warchol

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 interior 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.

Photo © Paul Warchol

The landscape around the pools measures the time of a year’s passing through the four seasons. Spring is marked on the east side with pink blooming redbuds emerging in clusters along branches of the grove. Summer is marked to the south with rich green leaves of gingko trees, accented by Russian Sage purple flowers.

Fall is marked to the west with vibrant red maples and the golden gingko leaves provide a striking contrast around the south reflecting pool. The north gardens are framed with a border of white pines and American hollies providing a green backdrop in the winter but also year-round.

Photo © Paul WarcholPhoto © Paul Warchol

Twenty geothermal wells, powered by the cycle of the earth’s seasonal temperature, heat and cool the building with radiant floors. Natural ventilation in wood-framed windows bring light and air into all spaces. Steven Holl Architects was selected to design the Rubenstein Commons in March 2016 from an international competition.

The Institute for Advanced Study, founded in 1930 as one of the world’s leading centers for curiosity-driven research, is unique in its dedication to providing scholars with the tools, colleagues, environment, and freedom to pursue groundbreaking research.


Scholars are free from administrative and teaching obligations, and enjoy a tranquil campus setting, spanning 589 acres. Enabled through a visionary gift from businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, the Rubenstein Commons building will have a transformative impact on intellectual and communal life at IAS.

The building will be dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony bringing together scholars, IAS Trustees, chief architectural and building partners, local officials, business leaders, foreign dignitaries, and dozens of members of the campus and local community. Details of the rescheduled ceremony will be forthcoming. Source and images Courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

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