left: Penn's power plant (circa 1895), where Irvine Auditorium now
stands; Horace Trumbauer's original design for Irvine (top); digging
Irvine's foundations, circa 1925.
Treasures & Travesties,
In your book, you mention that under Pepper, the eras academic "specialization
would be revealed in separate and distinct buildings" for new programs.
Now that interdisciplinarity is the Universitys mantra, how will
the campus and buildings be different?
Good question. One answer is the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology
over in the eastern science precinct, which is placed where it is to make
connections between the multiple disciplines of that campus. We dont
have the sense that English professors will actually be talking to scientists,
but within those precincts we will see lots of institutes and lots of
centers either being adapted from existing buildings or new buildings
built to make that happen.
Its certainly true that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
Penn symbolized with architecture its specializationgiving each
of the professional schools its own face, its own identity through architecture.
But the meanings of architecture are, many of them, associative. Theyre
connected by our imagination and our memories to buildings, not to anything
intrinsic to them. And in that respect the reorganization of the University
within those façades is something that can be as readily symbolized
by those existing buildings, even though they were built for other purposes,
as by anything else.
Still, when you entered Towne, and you crossed the corridor, you went
into these great industrial-shop spaces under big sky-lighted, steel-trussed
roofs. When the machines were removed, and floors were added, it turns
into just academic space, and all of a sudden theres really nothing
at Towne that defines it as a science building, except the people that
are in it.
These are basically, with very few exceptions, relatively
simple, almost industrial-loft-like buildings, in which you can move walls
within, change spaces, change configurations, very easily. The unusual
thing is the highly configured, highly specified volume such as the Fisher
Fine Arts Library or Richards.
Penn has been remarkably fortunate in recognizing the ability to use buildings
for things other than what they were designed for. Logan Hall was designed
with two gigantic medical amphitheaters in it. Admittedly, they had to
be altered quite a lot to make it work, but it still saves the skin.
What are some of the real treasures of Penns campus, and why?
Ill take the Richards [building]. I think that the hallmark of that
building is a very strongly stated image of what human activity in pursuit
of knowledge looks like. Its an image of people working in teams,
gathered together in a common space, in proximity with other teams. And
the individuality of those teams, their independence, and yet their participation
in a collective activity is represented by the building very strongly.
Its also a building that extremely gracefully places itself in a
context of older architecture, of natural landscape, and it does those
things with obvious intentionality. Theres not a thing about the
building that you can look at and say, "Why is that that way?"
and not come up with an answer. And that completeness of expression, that
totality of design success, is, I think, the hallmark of a good building.
My counter to that is the [Fisher Fine Arts] library, in which Furness
achieves all of those same elements with the same ideas, the same evident
thought about how people work together and what they do, what the process
is, equally convincingly laid outand again, equally wonderfully
woven into a campus. It had been a green campus, but by the way he slides
that in, builds the tower out right on the crosswalk in front of College
Halleven though its this fire-engine-red explosion at the
end of this green academic grove, its still part of the setting.
And wonderfully welcominga great portico right on the axis for everything
that moves throughclearly descriptive: "How am I going to use
this thing?" The stair with the windows is very obvious. Entrance
is on axis into the central reading room, where the card catalogue confronted
the user so that no undergraduate could ever say to a faculty member,
"I couldnt figure out either how to get in or what to do."
I mean, these are buildings that are powerfully compelling in the
way that they speak to you and make you cognizant of them. And thats
And just to show that were not bigoted Philadelphians entirely,
Hill House, by Eero Saarinen, is again a building in which youre
really never in doubt about what the architects intention is. Its
a building that is rough and nubbly and protective-seeming on its outside;
entered circumspectly, through an almost guarded route that leads you
literally over a bridge and through a narrow doorway, and then, for that
student, an explosion of light and a sense of an enormous family literally
gathered around the tablethe center of the whole experience is dining.
And those clear ideas about how a human society is to be protected and
then organized within that protectionthat is conveyed throughout
The Quad does those same things with the same genius. Its a wonderful
vessel that contains activities that get the kids off the street and provides
them with their own safe zone, where they can have their little private
rituals of beating each other up for bowls and spoons and things. It provides
a setting for the juniors, who were the sophomores the year before, so
that in the midst of the battle between juniors and sophomores, they as
juniors can now look down upon it. But also, again, with this wonderful
sense of entrance and activity. It is just a stunningly wonderful building.
Every dormitory that has been built on the campus since those buildings
has thought about the lessons of the Quad.
Its intriguing that we keep coming back to these
sort of two pivotal momentsthe 1950s-60s and the 1880s-90s.
And we have a couple of other buildings that you cant
not talk aboutthe University Museum is maybe the most wonderfully
colorful, evocative, engagingparticularly from the outside. Its
less good as a museum, except for the big rotunda spaces. But those outside
courts are just knockout, drop-dead spaces, and the sort of Japanesque,
Middle East, arts-and-crafts wonder of the exterior, the Lombard romance.
Yes, its a wonderful demonstration that to be strong, architecture
doesnt have to be pure. One of the fallacies of aesthetic judgment
is that something thats impure cannot be strongits polluted
or diluted. But in fact most of these designs that weve talked about
are in some ways conflicted, or theyre about opposite things. That
results from an intelligent architect dealing with difficult problems
and literally trying to solve them all.
A couple of other little pieces are nifty, and I think really humanize
this campus. Those little clusters of small houses that confront or juxtapose
the high-rises give that sense of the intimacy of domesticity in the larger
institution. There is the little cluster on 34th StreetMorgan and
Music leading to Smith Walk in the very reticent and elegant North Italian
style: marvelous little buildings, great little place-holders with a lovely
sense of detail. Theres a lot of modest, small-scale but intensely
interesting buildingsand theyre in many ways the buildings
that hold the campus together.
Jaffe [the Jaffe Art History building near 34th and
Walnut streets] is another one. The Joseph Potts house by the Wilson Brothers
thats now WXPNthough that needs to be treated as a separate
little domestic piece, as opposed to just a side-yard of Superblock. We
need to piece these little things together and give them back their special
character. Contrast is often as or even more effective than contextualism
in making you understand places. When everythings horizontal, something
vertical gets your attention, and when everythings big, something
small can get your attention. Penns lucky in that sense to have
an enormous array of textures and scales. And ironically, much of this
was almost totally unplanned, the stuff that now makes the mix of the
campus so wonderful.
Penn now owns a substantial number of very interesting buildings that
are not on what is traditionally thought of as the campus. The former
Christian Science Church. The former Divinity School. And the Daily
Pennsylvanian building. These are buildings that are not associated
with us by history, for which we were not the clients; we have, by happenstance,
come into possession of remarkably significant works, and I think that
they add to what is that, as George says, very interesting texture of
Its a really important opportunity that the campus has, because
it happens to be settled in a pretty rich and architecturally interesting
area. Penn has the chance, as the nineties end, to reestablish itself
as a partner in the community. How it adapts these buildingsand
the way that it makes the community understand itselfwill be the
measure of their success in this whole process.