For the second year in a row, heavy skies drove Penn’s new freshman class into the Palestra for a hot and humid Convocation (next page). But even if the new cohort squirmed and sweated their way through the ceremony, at least it ended with an escape into something last year’s class lacked: a handsome new college green equal to the occasion.
Over the summer, the aging Hunter Lott tennis courts were supplanted by Shoemaker Green, a grassy commons whose sloped contour amplifies the grandeur of two of the most elegant arenas in collegiate sports. The Palestra and Franklin Field have a flattering new front yard, named in honor of Al Shoemaker W’60 Hon’95, a former chairman of the board of trustees and longtime benefactor of the University. Scarlet oaks line its curving pathways, multi-tiered benches provide natural gathering places, and constriction has given way to open space.
“We took the DNA of College Green,” says lead landscape architect Tom Amoroso of Andropogon Associates, “and added performance requirements” like the ability to stage concerts and movie nights, store storm runoff, and collect air-conditioning condensate from the Palestra and Hutchinson gym, whose HVAC system is expected to generate as much as 1,000 gallons of water a day in the summer months. (Hutchinson is currently undergoing a $22 million renovation that is expected to be completed in the fall of 2013.)
“As we honor Al Shoemaker,” said Trustee Chair David L. Cohen L’81 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in September, “there’s an elegance to having this green space, extending the campus—marrying the campus with athletics. I think it stands for so much of what Al and his Penn career have been all about.”
Shoemaker Green is one of about 150 pilot projects for the Sustainable Sites Initiative, the nation’s first rating system for sustainable landscape design. A rain garden at the green’s low point, planted with cypress and magnolia trees, is one of the outward manifestations of the push toward sustainability. The lawn also features a mixture of grasses and sedges with relatively low water requirements.
The green’s simplicity disguises what Amoroso calls “a machine” below ground level. In addition to the sophisticated plumbing, there’s also a modernized electrical infrastructure. A concealed vault near 33rd Street contains new power and telecom panels that connect to the Palestra and Franklin Field, which will allow television and radio broadcasting trucks to plug in at the curb rather than clog up the building entrances.
“It amazes me that it functioned this long without these types of changes,” Amoroso says of the space and its old “cattle-shoot walkways” that channeled sports fans around the tennis courts.
“Now you have ample room, and a whole series of options for people to circulate through. It has the ability to absorb all those pedestrian movements and dissipate them over the site in a way that makes sense.”—T.P.