sketch from Penn's 1948 master plan, with a proposed administration
tower; inside the Quad; College Hall and the Furness library.
Treasures & Travesties,
How did the Quaker and the industrial-era-Philadelphia worldview affect
From [Provost Charles] Stillé through Harrison, Penn was a product
of the industrial culture of Philadelphia. No one was afraid to put a
factory-like power-house where Irvine is. No one was afraid to make the
library look like a foundry. Theres a sort of jovial sense of the
real world intruding onto the campus and its no big deal.
In the 1890s, Provost Harrison basically said, "Forget
that." And he fired Furness and said rather unkind things about him,
not the least of which was that he too strongly believed in his own ideas.
If he had to raise the money, he would hire architects with whom he would
be happy to work. And he hired Cope & Stewardson and said, "Make
Penn look like a great university."
I think one of the challenges always in talking about a place like Philadelphia,
where there seem to be certain leading or predominant values or principles,
is to acknowledge the fact and explain the fact that Cope and Stewardson
were authentic Philadelphians, too.
And Quakers. I think weve always misinterpreted this Quaker question.
Nineteenth-century Philadelphia was no longer a Quaker culture; I see
it as much more related to the industrial culture at the core of what
we do. Digby Baltzell and a whole series of historians have made this
mistake. It has drastically distorted our view of what made a success
in Philadelphia and what the 19th century was about. These are not aspects
of Quakerism; they are aspects of a culture that is progressivebecause
industry is progressiveand that inherently believes in the same
values as the men who designed the great machines, who said, "If
a machine is right, it looks right"form follows function. This
is the culture that Furness came from. Philadelphia shocked the nation
because it was the capital of red-brick, smokestack America, whereas New
York and Washington in a sense are about façade. Theyre about
imageshow do you make finance look significant? You put columns
on it. You look to Europe, you relate to that culture. Theres a
transatlantic culture going at the same time that theres an industrial
culture in the middle states in the 19th century. The industrial culture
appeals to those who are part of it, whereas the transatlantic culture
appeals to the press and the media, and eventually captures the story
What is the role of accident in Penns architecture?
The things I would put my finger on are not so much accidents as opportunities
that develop unexpectedly. And I think you have to conceive of every one
of the Universitys siting decisions as having been an opportunity.
And some of them have been very happy ones. A peculiar set of opportunities
were presented by the street system of West Philadelphiathe system
of a grid with diagonals slashing across itwhich gives the campus
an odd kind of plaid-with-a-jog character, which I think is rather pleasant.
The variety of triangular buildings that continue to echo that, even though
the streets are gone, is a result of that peculiar opportunity created
by that kind of formal setting.
To what degree have the personalities of provosts and presidents and trustees
affected the architecture on campus?
Almost totally. Theyre the real players.
And I would say the best buildings that we have built for the University
have been built under presidents who had an idea of what they wanted to
say with architecture.
The leaders of the University who served at moments when there was lots
of capital were the lucky ones. In the 1870s, theres money around
because of the post-Civil War expansion, and also in the 1880s, 1890s.
Thats when we got much of what we like in the campus. The Philadelphia
economy began to collapse in the 20th century when the innovative kids
stopped going into engineering and industry and started going into law
and finance. As a result, Philadelphia stopped producing new capital and
new jobs, and the Universitys architecture shows that. You see it
in the late 20th century, when it got to the point under Harnwell that
we couldnt afford our own major scientific tools and had to go to
the federal government because our regional industry had collapsed.
And how did that affect the architecture?
Well, it means we were forced to use the GSA [General State Authority],
which basically lowered the design standards. I did a little study of
this a couple of years ago to figure out how we got Meyerson Hall. Its
a sad and unfortunate tale. GSA announced in one meeting that the way
that they determined the good architects was whether they got work done
on time and were not argumentative. And that was it!
the early sixties, with the Cold War and Sputnik, the feds suddenly threw
money into academia, and at that point the states were asked to administer
federal money as grants. Penn quickly jumped into that feeding frenzy,
and did the Franklin building, Williams, Rittenhouse Lab extensions, Meyerson
Fine Arts, the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter, the
social-sciences complex, and Superblockmainly buildings that are
universally disliked on campus.