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Living and Learning

I remember walking down Locust Walk when I came back to Penn in 1996 to become editor of the Gazette and wondering what it was that felt different about it. Finally, I realized that the trees lining the block between 36th and 37th streets had had more than a decade to grow since I had last been there. They were taller, thicker-trunked, and they gave a lot more shade than the relative saplings of my (unconscious) memory. Which is to say that Penn’s campus is always changing, in a multitude of small ways that go largely unremarked.
    And then there are times like the present, when the sights and sounds of change on campus are impossible to ignore. We devote a good portion of this issue to a look at those changes, from a couple of different perspectives.
    First, Penn is in the midst of its biggest building program in 30 years. We’ve reported on some of these projects individually, but a kind of critical mass has been reached lately. The University appears to be at one of those moments that redefine the shape of the campus and the experience of living, working and learning here. On the cover, we offer a fanciful rendition of what the campus may look like in a few years; so much is going on that we had to make it twice as big as usual. Then, starting on page 22, there is a rundown of projects under way or announced—"Work in Progress"—illustrated with some striking construction photos by Greg Benson.
    One of the most significant efforts is a $300 million, 10-year program designed to upgrade and expand Penn’s undergraduate housing and dining facilities to better support the college-house system instituted in all University residences last year. In "The Dorm Transformed" (page 32), assistant editor Susan Lonkevich reports on the system’s first year, its roots in Penn’s past and how it compares to living/learning initiatives at other schools across the country.
    One major distinction of Penn’s system, according to Dr. David Brownlee, professor of art history and director of the Office of College Houses and Academic Services, is that these communities are helping to "design themselves"—both in terms of the programming they will offer and the physical space they will inhabit. Students who live in the affected college houses serve on committees overseeing renovations to the Quadrangle dormitories and the renovations and new construction planned for Hamilton Village (the former Superblock).
    Brownlee is also one of a pair of experts on Penn’s architecture—the other is Dr. George Thomas Gr’75, lecturer in historic preservation—interviewed by senior editor Samuel Hughes in "Treasures & Travesties" on page 38. The two men, who are co-authors of a book on the subject due out next year from the University of Pennsylvania Press, range over the high- and low-lights of a century’s worth of campus buildings put up (and torn down) since the University moved across the Schuylkill River into West Philadelphia.
    How the students who learn or live (or learn and live) in the new campus buildings will remember them will depend only partly on their aesthetic quality, of course. For example, I can’t dispute the critical drubbing Superblock receives, here and elsewhere, and can only applaud any effort to make it more inviting and livable in its latest incarnation as Hamilton Village. On the other hand, I also can’t walk from 38th to 40th Street without recalling that, while living in High-Rise East (as we called it) my freshman and sophomore years, I got to write and direct a couple of plays as a member of Arts House, one of the early "residential programs"; that I made my closest college friends while living in Van Pelt my junior year; and that, the winter of my senior year, I asked my wife out for the first time when we happened to run into each other—for the second time in exactly the same spot—outside High-Rise South. Whatever they do over there, I hope they leave that spot alone.

   —John Prendergast C’80


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