|Penn's New College House: A Transformative Urban Village
July 16, 2013,
Volume 60, No.1
President Amy Gutmann stressed the importance of Penn’s New College House, as “one of the highest Penn Compact priorities” when she spoke at the Trustees’ Facilities and Campus Planning Committee meeting last month.
Dr. Gutmann described how this project—now in the design development phase—is “an important transformative priority.”
She noted that the comprehensive campus-wide College House program began 14 years ago to provide supportive residential communities for the education of undergraduate students (Almanac October 14, 1997). The Houses serve as microcosms of the University's intellectual variety and strengths, and provide unparalleled learning opportunities outside of the conventional classroom. “In 14 years they have become enormously successful, and life in a College House has become a touchstone for generations of student experiences at Penn,” she added.
The view of the New College House looking west along Chestnut Street, with the Law School in the background.
Penn currently has 11 unique residences that form the center of Penn’s undergraduate experience. They bring together undergraduates, faculty, staff and graduate students to form dynamic shared communities, positioned within the larger Penn community that constitutes the urban campus.
Currently, 52 percent of Penn’s undergraduates reside within the College House system. Ninety nine percent of the first year class (2,451 students) and 50 percent (1,263 students) of the second year class. Third and fourth year students comprise the remaining 30 percent of College House residents with equal representation from both classes (approximately 700 per class).
But the College House program was, by necessity, something grafted onto existing facilities. Penn has never built a residential facility with the College House program specifically in mind—until now.
The New College House is the first signature residential building on Penn’s campus specifically designed and built to maximize the College House experience. As such, it is one of the highest Penn Connects priorities for campus development.
The New College House will accommodate all the intellectual, cultural, and social activities that have become the hallmark of Penn’s College Houses. The New College House will provide the premier on-campus living experience with a flexible dining commons and a private courtyard, similar to the Quadrangle’s spaces in scale and feel.
President Gutmann emphasized that, “Our challenge in building the New College House is to construct one worthy of our high aspirations for Penn undergraduate life in the 21st century and beyond. Meeting this challenge is critical for keeping Penn competitive among our peers while responding to student demand. What the Quad did for Penn over a century ago, the New College House will do—and I am convinced, will do even more—in the century to come.”
Another highly important aspect of this project has to do with the building’s location, bounded by 34th Street, Chestnut Street and the 125 Years of Women at Penn Walkway. Fronting the Law School’s Silverman Hall and neighboring the Hill College House, this new building will frame and define the highly visible gateway to campus at 33rd and Chestnut Streets.
The design preserves open space and welcomes visitors with a sloping lawn, while also offering a private internal courtyard to its residents.
“So we have gone into this program looking for a design that will transform this gateway by preserving important open space and welcoming visitors along Woodland Walk with a generous sloping lawn, while also offering a beautiful private internal courtyard to its residents,” said Dr. Gutmann.
The New College House will be intimate enough to create a strong community, while large enough to provide intellectual vibrancy and social diversity, plus a sufficient revenue stream and efficient use of resources. Residents will include undergraduate students, a Faculty Master, Faculty Fellows, a House Dean and undergraduate and graduate Residential Advisors.
With approximately 350 beds proposed, student rooms will primarily be multiple-bedroom suites with 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-bedroom arrangements, each with a living room and private baths. The building will also include singles and two-bedroom suites with private baths.
The design locates major programmatic spaces around a central courtyard that serves the population of the building, encouraging all its residents to engage in the life of the House.
The courtyard will be an outdoor oasis with an array of programmatic possibilities: from small concerts, to barbeques, to casual space for relaxation. Events in the adjacent dining room will also take advantage of the courtyard.
The dining venue allows for both large special events and more intimate dining with friends. The dining program in the New College House will be a hybrid of an “a la carte menu” (breakfast, lunch, and late night service) and a dinner service which will consist of All-You-Care-To-Eat (AYCTE) with an option for family style service.
The House dining room will provide enough seating to accommodate one half of the anticipated occupancy of the house at any given time. To the extent possible, it will provide an opportunity for approximately 125 AYCTE diners at any given time during dinner service with the remaining 50 seats accessible and available at the southern end of the dining room for group or other special uses. Special uses could be a faculty dinner, house dean special event or peer-lead discussion groups.
Seating will be flexible to include tables that can be adjoined for 2, 4, 6 or 8 as well as counter seating for individuals. The dining room will be available to the House during breakfast, lunch and late-night with primary seating during these times being accommodated in the “Service Area.” Overflow seating and other House uses would be provided in the dining room.
During the dinner hour, the Service Area as well as the dining room would be primarily designated for dinner service. The Support Kitchen will provide storage, preparation, clean-up and backup for the entire operation. Dinner will be available using the entire service line including the grill station as well as multiple cold and hot stations. The major focal point is the display cooking island featuring a wok range, and grill stations for vegan and non-vegan items.
Dinner Service is envisioned to be available family style and to include composed salads of the day, choice of a few entrées (including a vegan/vegetarian entrée), vegetable, starch, dessert and beverages. With the focus being on community, the opportunity to have guests coming to the serving line to get a “platter” of food for the table is the goal of community dining.
The large living room is designed as a multipurpose space for many kinds of social engagement, ranging from music performances and lectures to more intimate conversation or a quiet read.
The first floor contains a media center adjacent to the living room, which will provide a comfortable location for viewing class presentations, a House film series, or sporting events.
Two seminar rooms on the first floor with classroom instruction technology will seat up to 26 individuals. The seminar rooms will be available for classes, group study sessions, tutoring, and any other resident meetings that require an intimate setting.
Two music practice rooms are located on the first floor for lessons and student practice. An in-house Music Department Fellow will coordinate House events and music lessons for students.
The Master, Fellow, and Deans apartments are spaced throughout the House. They will host events in a home-like setting with smaller groups of students and use the Dining and Living Rooms for larger receptions.
Two community kitchens are located within the facility to allow residents to cook meals for themselves. In addition, each floor has lounge areas for casual conversation, study, or floor meetings.
The Project team is including sustainable design and energy conservation principles as the design process continues. Development focused on an energy efficient design, targeted for LEED Silver Certification. In addition to the large open landscaped lawn area, there will be a series of green roofs. A soil management plan will prevent soil erosion. The Project proposes to pursue a groundwater recharge program and a storm water treatment program.
The enclosing walls of the New College House are predominantly red brick, similar to the brick palette prevalent on the Penn campus. Stone trim frames the windows marking student rooms. Shear glass towers containing living rooms and common areas punctuate the residential bays and express the social structure of the building.
“Clearly we have very high expectations not only for how this building will function, but also what it will say about Penn to all who come here. Luckily, our Design Team is led by the Philadelphia-based architectural office of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ),” Dr. Gutmann said.
BCJ is an internationally known firm and has received more than 460 regional, national, and international awards for design. In 1994, the practice received the Architecture Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects. The Liberty Bell Center on Independence Mall and Apple stores around the world are among the representative projects designed by BCJ. They have also done Penn Dental’s Schattner Center.
Construction of the $125 million project is set to begin by January 2014 and to be complete by July 2016 with an August 2016 move-in for residents. Therefore, the 2014 Alumni Weekend events that have been located on that corner will be relocated to new open spaces such as Penn Park and Shoemaker Green.