Rutgers Architect Imagines Past to Plan for Future

Rutgers Architect Imagines Past to Plan for Future

Elizabeth Reeves Lindh preserves and restores historic university buildings

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Elizabeth Reeves Lindh is helping Rutgers get ready to celebrate its 250th anniversary by overseeing the restoration of some of the university's oldest buildings.
 
Photo: Rutgers University/Lisa Marie Segarra

'Buildings tell a story and you have to listen to that story. Otherwise, you’re making decisions in a dark closet.'
 
- Elizabeth Reeves Lindh

 

Elizabeth Reeves Lindh believes the historic structures along Rutgers University’s College Avenue are not just old buildings; they help tell a story and provide a better understanding of Rutgers’ history.

A preservation architect in the University Architect’s Office, Lindh establishes the direction for the preservation and rehabilitation of historically significant Rutgers buildings. So, for example, when she looks at Old Queens, she visualizes it as the classroom building it was until 1900, and imagines the students who studied there.

Likewise, Lindh imagines the Schank Observatory as it was when it was built in 1866 – an astronomical observatory and a symbol of the split that occurred between Rutgers’ original mission of training ministers and lawyers and its new mission to train scientists. She can visualize the swimming pool under the Zimmerli Museum – originally part of a gymnasium that burned to the ground in 1930 – and picture Winants Hall as the dormitory where Paul Robeson once lived.

“The Queens Campus represents the first 100 years of higher education in the United States,” Lindh says. “It’s the buildings that help tell this story.”

With the 250th anniversary of Rutgers University’s founding only two years away, Lindh spends much of her time trying get through a to-do list of projects. A lot has already been completed, but there is still a lot more restoration and repair work to be addressed. She’s focusing mainly on New Brunswick – primarily College Avenue, from Old Queens to the Rutgers Club – as a timeline of the historic growth of the campus. Lindh will establish design guidelines for the restoration of buildings, including technical guidelines for the treatment of historic building materials. She’s  relying on the standards of the State Historic Preservation Office and the federal Antiquities Act in deciding what should be preserved and rehabilitated.   

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Elizabeth Reeves Lindh at the Schank Observatory on George Street.
Photo: Rutgers University/Lisa Marie Segarra
Geological Hall, home to the Geology Museum, is a top priority building. Perhaps the oldest museum building housing its original 19th century collection in the United States, makes it unique nationwide, “and that’s special.”  “Most colleges in America had geology or natural history museums in the 19th century, for the public and for scientific classrooms,” Lindh says. “Most colleges sold their collections or built new museums to house their historic collections.”

Also on Lindh’s list of projects are the Old Queens cupola, last painted in 2001 and due for painting again; and Kirkpatrick Chapel, whose stained-glass windows have been restored, but whose interior is still being rehabilitated. Winants Hall sits on the site of the original college spring and is in need of some building stabilization and millwork restoration.

Lindh concedes that not all old buildings are necessarily historic or significant, and not every historic building is old.  But she says decision makers need to remember that these buildings have tangible connections to the people who once lived, studied and taught in them as they consider whether to rehabilitate a building, knock it down, change it or leave it alone.

“Buildings tell a story and you have to listen to that story,” she says. “Otherwise, you’re making decisions in a dark closet.”