In April 2005, Gutmann appointed a 10-member Campus Development Planning Committee (CDPC) composed of deans and senior administrative staff, and co-chaired by Carnaroli and Penn Provost Ron Daniels. As consultants, the University brought in Sasaki Associates. “Sasaki helped guide the committee as it looked at this in a really comprehensive way,” says Carnaroli, pointing to the firm’s “international experience and global perspective” as well as its strong track record in the U.S. higher-education market (clients include Harvard). The company had also completed a study for the Schuylkill River Development Council, an umbrella group in which the University is involved, looking at both banks of the river a few years ago, which meant they were familiar with the site and the related issues.

An ad hoc committee of trustees was also involved, and the CDPC collected advice and feedback from constituencies representing deans, senior administrators, students, faculty, staff, and alumni. A series of town hall meetings was held on campus last fall, and a student survey was conducted as well. Comments were also invited for an interim report that was published in Almanac, Penn’s journal of record, in February.

“The committee took a great deal of time to ensure broad consultation in its deliberation,” says Daniels. “That meant everything from meeting with various groups, from faculty to alumni to students to staff to constituencies outside the campus, to holding town hall meetings, to doing presentations, to having an interim report, which was an opportunity to do our thinking out loud and to get feedback.”

As a result, Daniels adds, the various stakeholders were able to convey their needs “in a fairly clear and compelling way,” and the final plan is “responsive to a lot of those concerns and dreams for the campus.”

Student interests included housing, athletics, and the preservation and expansion of open green space on campus. “There was the real sense that one of Penn’s defining features is its status as an urban campus, but one that has a significant amount of open space, and there was a very strong concern that, as we thought about development, we were attentive to the need to preserve and create the additional open space,” says Daniels.

The need to improve the eastern entrance to the campus was a sentiment that cut across all groups—“particularly the so-called ‘dead zone’ along the Walnut Street Bridge,” says Daniels—and to ensure that development along the corridor “really created a lively and dynamic campus community that would be on that edge of the campus.” Such concerns were especially prominent among graduate students, who are more likely than undergrads to live in Center City, and must brave that now rather bleak trek every day; they also favored additional graduate-student housing in the area.

Among the faculty, there was a strong response to the need to expand “core academic space,” with the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Medicine, and the life-sciences component within the School of Arts and Sciences being particularly “concerned about the need to expand the core research space, because that was a priority, clearly.” The need to provide more cultural space was also recommended.

Alumni concerns tracked the interests of a number of other constituencies, Daniels adds. “They were concerned about the linkages to Center City, concerned about the open space, concerned about the athletic facilities, student housing, so there wasn’t one particular issue that came from them.”

Once planners had a sense of the perceived needs, they took a look at how they could best be met by the space, given site conditions, financing, and other issues. Besides the recently acquired 14 acres now occupied by surface parking, planners also took into consideration another 18 acres already owned by the University—now taken up by sports fields, the Class of 1923 Ice Rink and Levy Tennis Pavilion, and a few smaller plots.

 

If the east campus were a movie, its title might be Floodplains, Trains, and Automobiles. Besides the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76), which runs along the river, the site is crossed by ground-level train tracks used by SEPTA’s regional rail lines and AMTRAK’s Northeast Corridor trains, and the CSX “Highline” freight railway, elevated some 60 ft aboveground on stone and steel supports. Much of the land also lies within the floodplain, and uses need to accommodate periodic flooding when the Schuylkill rises above its banks.

“You have a classic ‘brownfield’ situation—a transportation corridor, a single-use zone, that today is seen as a place of great value,” says Sasaki President Dennis Pieprz, who headed the team working with Penn. “The gateway to Penn is the back of a postal facility, highways, rail lines, parking lots, very poorly defined streets.”

The situation wasn’t much better up above, he adds. “Walnut Street just a bit further [West] is great, and as you go into Center City, Rittenhouse Square is one of the most remarkable urban districts in America. Yet there’s this void here. Our work was very much about making urbanity, extending the relationship of the University to the river, to Center City, so that people would feel welcome coming into the University and coming into Center City.”

The plan as ultimately approved evolved through “many, many diagrams and drawings,” Pieprz says. “We had six very different concepts early on, some very radical—decking of everything, creating a whole new edge of buildings—and we slowly evolved the plan to its current state through simply [asking]: What is the most achievable? What creates the most successful urban environment? What gives the University the flexibility it needs?

“Some schemes required very heavy investment upfront in ways that you can’t easily justify, so we eliminated those,” he adds. “We have a lot of infrastructure passing through the site areas. You have the multi-level and floodplain issues. It’s a very complicated thing.”

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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 08/31/06

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COVER STORY: New Campus Dawning
By John Prendergast

 

Around South Street’s “health sciences/cultural bridge,” the plan envisions better linkages between the medical precinct and the Penn Museum and a “green gateway” leading to Franklin Field.

Photography by Blll Cramer
Architectural renderings courtesy Sasaki Associates