Unbuilt Penn , continued


“While it may become desirable eventually to replace some of the old buildings,” the report concluded, “it is only necessary to demolish the present Library building to make a start towards accomplishing our objectives.”

Under that same campus plan, Penn’s women students would have been confined to the far side of 38th Street. After the trustees changed course and decided to put the women’s residences at the east end of campus, they began to plan for new dormitories in the blocks between 38th and 40th streets. The original plans called for six low-rise dormitories, similar to the recent plans (currently on hold) for the Hamilton Village College Houses [“Gazetteer,” January/February 2000]. But by the time Penn was ready to start building in the late 1960s, it needed to house 3,500 students at the lowest possible cost. The result was—well, the high-rises. “When you talk about designing, these aren’t all just dreams,” Holmes Perkins told the Gazette three years ago. “They run up against some awful hard realities.”

For many alumni, the Perelman Quadrangle—which consists of a handsomely renovated Houston Hall, Irvine Auditorium, Logan Hall, and Williams Hall, tied together by Wynn Commons—was a great fusion of dream and reality, a way to rescue some of Penn’s most beloved buildings from functional oblivion and keep the center of student activity in the historic part of campus for years to come. But for students who graduated from Penn in the mid-1990s, the reality came at the expense of another dream: the Revlon Center, a student center designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) for the area north of Walnut Street now occupied by Sansom Common. The 200,000-square-foot, multi-purpose center would have included a performing-arts hall, the Penn Bookstore, a “major food-service component,” meeting rooms, retail outlets, and a significant outdoor open space.

Greg Clement C’73 GAr’75, a principal architect for KPF, describes the design as a kind of “village of forms” that embodied the center’s various functional requirements, and recalls that the project was “pretty far along” in the planning stages before it was shelved for financial reasons. While it was disappointing for KPF—and some students—that the Revlon Center was never built, Clement is quick to acknowledge the benefits of the Perelman Quadrangle.

“They each have their virtues,” he says. “Personally, given my memories of Penn and of Houston Hall, I’m delighted that they restored and upgraded it. Would [the Revlon Center] have been great? Unquestionably. But ultimately, they made good use of the space. Putting the Bookstore where they did, as a magnet, kind of fulfills the basic intent of the initial Revlon Center. So in a way, they got the best of both worlds.”

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Top left and right: Paul Philippe Cret’s 1906 designs for the School of Architecture. Above left: R. Buckminster Fuller’s vision of the Institute of Contemporary Art. Above: The Revlon Center, by Kohn Pedersen Fox.



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