Even without the traffic that frequently blocks it, Spruce Street has historically been both a physical and psychological barrier between the University and its Health System, and one that Gutmann has taken pains to bridge. “A lot of the doctors have commented to me that just over the last two years we’re breaking down what they call the ‘Spruce Street Divide,’” she says, through efforts like interdisciplinary programs and events that bring doctors and other faculty together. “Now we’re actually going to break it down physically by making it easier to walk from our core academic campus into the medical and Museum precinct.”

Though they are “right next to each other,” the medical campus and Penn Museum don’t mesh well at all. The Museum’s entrance is not conducive to drawing people in, and it also isn’t near where you enter the medical precinct, Gutmann notes. Architect David Chipperfield, who is working on a master plan for the Penn Museum; Rafael Viñoly, architect for the Center for Advanced Medicine, now under construction on the old Civic Center site; and Sasaki’s Dennis Pieprz are working to “create in this area a cultural/medical mecca, where it will be much easier to walk and drive to the CAM, to a hospital, and at the same time make use of our Museum,” Gutmann says. “That feasibility study is already under way, so we know we have a way of creating better driveways and walkways here.”

Eventually, the existing Penn Tower, now used mostly for medical offices, would be demolished and replaced with a new plaza, providing some welcome open space in what is perhaps the busiest corner of campus, and also improving access to the SEPTA line. A pedestrian bridge over the SEPTA tracks and under the Highline would link the plaza to the River Fields area. There, anticipating future medical expansion, the plan identified a potential 1.55-million gsf of space for this purpose. As along Walnut Street, the buildings—four 15-story towers—could be constructed over an 1,800-car parking garage.

The medical/museum precinct “is contiguous to the athletics and recreation, which is contiguous to Walnut Street, so there are going to be multiple corridors to move from Center City to West Philadelphia,” notes Gutmann, “so it will be functional as well as beautiful. It’s a great combination.”

 

 

“The sky is always blue and the birds are always flying,” says Craig Carnaroli, referring to the idyllic world of artist’s conceptions. The business of transforming the watercolors into reality is another matter.

“It has to do with priorities, and also what’s actually possible,” says Gutmann. “You have to do some things before you can do others, so the priorities have to include housing for students, research facilities for faculty, recreational/green space for everybody—because we’re committed to responsible urban development.”

Money will have to be raised for projects like the college house, research facilities, and new field house. “We need to have commitments before we build things,” Gutmann notes. “We have a lot of enthusiasm for that, and our fundraising in the last two years has gone spectacularly well,” with fiscal year 2006, which ended June 30, setting an all-time record for Penn, she adds. “So, I’m optimistic that we will be able to raise the money.”

While gifts will also support development of the mixed-use neighborhood along Walnut Street, it also includes “at least as much, if not more, that we will [fund by] entering into commercial leasing arrangements,” with interested private developers, she adds.

Beyond the most general information on square footage and massing, the plan did not address the architecture of specific buildings. But Gutmann has an idea of what she wants.

“A great university needs great architecture, and I’m committed to making sure we have distinguished architecture on our campus,” she says. Styles will vary, with the site being one imporant factor—a building on Walnut Street might have a far different style and materials than one nearer the campus core. Whatever the style, though, “I want to make sure the buildings that are built to last are all distinguished in their own way,” Gutmann says. She cites as examples Skirkanich Hall, the bioengineering building now under construction designed by “rising architectural stars” Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, and Viñoly’s CAM design, which are successful both aesthetically and functionally.

“I want to marry form to function in an imaginative and lasting way for a lot of our buildings,” she says. “That’s part of what attracts people to an urban campus—a variety of architectural forms that serve practical functions. So I imagine different styles and designs, as many as there are functions and different sites on this multi-hundred-acre campus.”

Approval of the development plan by the trustees prompted a flurry of stories in the local media over the summer. One striking feature—in marked contrast to Penn’s own expansion efforts in the 1960s, and current programs at other urban institutions like Harvard and Columbia—is that so far no voices have been raised in opposition, The Philadelphia Inquirer recently noted.

“It now seems so natural, this plan; it seems absolutely the future,” says Gutmann. “Everybody knew it was a great opportunity, but nobody knew at the beginning how much we could make of it. Now we’re poised to move forward—and we have a phasing plan which makes sense.”

While specific needs may change as new opportunities arise, “there’s a place for everything in this plan,” Gutmann adds. “When we create more housing or another research building, when we lease land for retail or a restaurant or a new hotel, we can be confident that we are putting it in the right place, not just for today but for decades to come, because it has such great connections from the campus to Center City.

“It’s that sense of fluidity and of welcoming people in and enabling people to make better use of everything that Penn and Philadelphia have to offer that makes this such an imaginative plan.”

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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

A series of ramps and stairs will lead to the sports and recreation fields along the river—and across to Center City via a proposed pedestrian bridge.

Architectural renderings courtesy Sasaki Associates