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Kahn pro-and-con and other architectural arguments,
notes on a Note-reader..
RICHARDS BUILDING I:
"AMAZING" HALLWAYS PROMOTED
One Friday 25 years or so ago, I
left the Johnson Foundation, where the director, Dr. Britton Chance, gave
me a bench and a budget to do some experiments; got on the train to go
see my dad (who lived in Paterson, N.J.); and thus went to Penn Station
in New York City. I stopped to use the mens room at the station,
and noticed that the old guy at the sink next to mine, who didnt
look so well, was, in fact, dying. The cops came, and the next day I read
all about it in the Times. The old guy was Louis Kahnunless
there was another old guy, who looked a lot like him and who died the
same evening on a parallel track. I was probably the last person to see
Louis Kahn alive.
So I had walked out of a building Louis
I. Kahn had designed and ended up in a building where Kahn was dead.
I hadnt thought about this much
in the intervening quarter-centuryuntil I read the silly-assed remarks
by your two architecture experts [Dr. David] Brownlee and [Dr. George]
Thomas about the Richards Medical Research Building, Kahns contribution
to Penn ["Treasures & Travesties,"
Sept/Oct]. I worked on the fifth floor for about two years, when I
was an undergraduate. What an amazing place. The building had little tiny
laboratories, cramped as hell, but the hallways! Youve never seen
hallways like that. They were bigger than the labs.
Dr. Chance had the hallways lined with
expensive equipment. Everybody worked in the hallways. So everybody got
to know everybody. I dont know how this worked for the professors
and associate professors and assistant professors, but for an undergraduate
it was just great. You got to rub shoulders with all these brilliant people
that Dr. Chance had caused to come and work there, including Chance himself.
Scientists need all the intellectual stimulation they can get. That building
had its guts exposedthe pipes, the ducts, the conduits, the vents,
just hanging out in front of God and everybody. Who knows, maybe Kahn
found out enough about biologists to know that, if youre going to
study the guts of Gods creatures, you should have that kind of picture
all around you.
I had a bench not just out in the hallway,
but down by the elevators. Really out there. I eventually got tired of
everybody who walked by asking me what I was doing, so I posted the "Materials
and Methods" section from a paper Chance and I had published up on
the benchtop and just pointed to it. If anybody had any questions after
reading the section, that was great we could have a typical Johnson
Foundation discussion about it, right there in the hallway.
A few years later, I had the opportunity
to work in a lab at the University of California, San Diego. The Salk
Institute is across the street, by the beach. I went over there a few
times. Thomas says, "We know that when Kahn gets good direction,
he makes a Salk Institute. And when Britton Chance says, Do this
for me, and after that its your baby, then we get Richards."
How can you compare those two buildings and come up with the snide implication
that the Salk Institute with its stupid teak benchtops is somehow in any
sense a better place? Its just infuriating, the way you imply that
Jonas Salk somehow did a better job than Dr. Chance. I hate to think of
little critics like Brownlee and Thomas sniffing and pooh-poohing Kahns
creation. Im just glad that the total unconventionality of Louis
Kahns building worked out for me, while I was at Penn. And Im
glad I got to say goodbye to him.
RICHARDS BUILDING II:
Contrary to the consensus of the
architectural critics, most mortals I know find the Richards buildings
exterior unremarkable. I really find astounding Professor Brownlees
affection for the building, when he states that "Theres not
you can look at and say Why is that that way?"
As for the interior, it has an utterly horrendous feeling. The hallways
are cramped, dark, cold and bare concrete walls, too narrow to easily
deliver or move large pieces of scientific equipment. There is of necessity
some equipment stored in the hallways and this contributes to the feeling
of claustrophobia. The basement feels like an industrial dungeon.
As for the exterior, some scientists,
leery of the effect of bright sunlight on their research reagents, have
taped up aluminum foil to block out the light. Could not the design have
Those who lavish praise on this building
should take a walk inside and talk to the people who use it. The Richards
building is a shining example of how the academic and research needs of
the University were forfeited to the whimsy of architectural expression.
I hope that the next generation of architects and builders will work towards
ornamental design without the sacrifice of function.
Bruce L. Levine
Research Assistant Professor
Department of Molecular and Cellular
School of Medicine
TWO TREASURES NEGLECTED:
PALESTRA AND FRANKLIN FIELD
As a former architectural major at
Penn and native of West Philadelphia I read with interest the article
on Penns architecture. I was puzzled, however, as to how the two
experts, with their emphasis on Philadelphia s industrial values,
failed to mention the two buildings on campus that most successfully display
those values. They are, of course, the Palestra and Franklin Field. Perhaps
as athletic structures they lack the intellectual appeal of the academic
and research buildings. But as structures that fulfill their function
and, moreover, enhance the experiences of the users, they are unsurpassed.
It is no coincidence that they are the only Penn structures widely known
and praised beyond the Penn campus.
And how about an article discussing
Penns campus? The whole is clearly superior to the sum of
its parts and may be the finest classically urban academic space in the
country. In that, I think Ben F. would be truly proud.
ISSUES RAISED BY SOS COMMITTEE IN
THE 1960S ARE STILL RELEVANT
Thank you for printing "Treasures
& Travesties." I look forward to the forthcoming book by
Drs. Brownlee and Thomas. I only hope it gives the Save Open Space (SOS)
movement of 1964-66 its due. SOS was, to my knowledge, the first mass
movement on any American campus to focus on matters of architecture and
esthetics. The issues raised by the SOS Committee were the very ones highlighted
by Thomas and Brownlee: How does the campus articulate with the city?
What face does it present at its entrances and borders? What is the role
of open space in an urban campus, and how does quality trade off against
quantity? Should university architecture be "safe" or daring?
To what degree should it reflect the interests and concepts of its intended
users? How should new buildings be placed in old contexts? How should
radical stylistic juxtapositions be done? In 1965, everyoneexcept
the Administration, which stonewalled throughoutwas talking about
these issues. They spilled out into the community at large, even making
the editorial page of the Philadelphia Bulletin (Aug. 15, 1965).
In the end, SOS lost in its attempt
to prevent the erection of a new Fine Arts building next to what we called
the Furness Library. The Fine Arts building turned out to be the end of
the architecturally innovative Harnwell years and a transition to a period
of sustained modernist mediocrity. When we left, we thought the consultative
channels set up in the wake of SOS consciousness-raising would usher in
a bright and shining new day. Like so many of the seeming victories of
the sixties, ours was to prove evanescent. But we tried; Lord knows we
Arthur M. Shapiro
A SHORTAGE OF HOUSING, AND OF CONCERN
FOR UNDERGRADUATES, MARKED HARNWELL
Re: "The Man Behind Superblock,"
By Yochi Dreazen ["Notes From
the Undergrad," Sept/Oct].
I was an undergraduate at Penn during
the Superblock planning, approval and early construction years. Dreazen
is correct in recollecting the eagerness with which Penn students anticipated
living in clean, roach-free, uncrowded buildings. That the architectural
design was unsuitable to "building community" within the structures
was not even thought about. After all, Penn was a much smaller school
then, and it was not hard for students to develop communities of their
own through sports, clubs or even academics.
But Dreazens history is incomplete.
He states, "At the time, students wanting to live on campus had two
choices: fraternity houses
or the Quadrangle." Well, that
was true for male students, but Penn was co-ed even "way back
then" in the late-1960s, and female students could live in
Hill House, sororities, or renovated University-owned apartments, as I
did at 44th and Spruce streets.
There was indeed a shortage of housing
for both genders, but more importantly, most accommodations, except
perhaps in Hill, were in a terrible state of disrepair, bug-infested and
basically "crummy." Thus, we looked forward to the new, clean
apartments that Superblock offered.
Moreover, Dreazen forgets that undergraduate
education and undergraduate life issues were decidedly secondary to the
Harnwell administration. As a research scientist, Harnwells interests
were clearly in building Penns graduate program. Yes, some wonderful
professors taught undergrads but, basically, undergraduate education was
an afterthought. For example, between my own junior and senior years,
graduation requirements were severely reduced (from 40 classes to 32).
Despite the fact that I was the only undergraduate major in my department
(Japanese), my "advisor" forgot to inform me of this, so that,
when I got back to Penn (and had paid tuition, of course!) I found out
that I had completed all the requirements for graduation. In that uncaring
environment, the fact that the Superblock did not take note of the real
needs of undergraduates is hardly surprising!
Joan Drucker Winstein
Oak Park, Ill.
PLANNING COULD HAVE SPARED
COMMUNITY MUCH "BRUTALIST ARCHITECTURE"
Sept/Oct Gazette was compelling
reading, particularly for one who was at Penn in the early 1960s, when
vacant lots stretched about the campus in many directions, and has only
visited a few times in the intervening years. It should be pointed out
that a master plan usually precedes the bulldozers, not follows
them. Had the University had a carefully thought out master plan in place,
the community might have been spared much of the brutalist architecture
of recent decades, the effects of which Penn is now trying to mitigate.
Santa Fe, N.M.
REFLECTIONS ON REFLECTED GLORY
I read Stephanie Williams
essay "Duly Noted" with more than a passing interest ["Alumni
Voices," Sept/Oct]. I have to admit that I too read the alumni
"Notes" and "Profiles" with a certain amount of self-reflection.
There is an odd duality that starts upon entering Penn. Success at Penn
is often built around competition. It can be getting the better grade
or the better housing-lottery number. But there is a certain solidarity
that is created, as well. This is best exemplified by shouting "Were
Number One!" as a Penn sports-team wins another Ivy title, even though
the shouter may know the athletes only through stories in The Daily
Given the atmosphere that is created
while one is a student at Penn, I do perform some personal benchmarking
as I read the Gazette. But in some strange way, I feel that somehow
I am associated with the success stories presented in the Gazette,
even if the only connection is that we may have occupied the same college
campus at one time. Peoples eyes roll to the back of their head
as I casually mention that a story being discussed happens to involve
a Penn alumnus.
I would love to write for New York
magazine as Ms. Williams does, but, unfortunately, I do not. You can rest
assured, however, that someday soon a friend or colleague will mention
an article from that magazine, to which I will reply, "Oh yeah, Stephanie
wrote that. You know, she went to Penn also."
THEN AGAIN, SOMETIMES ITS JUST AS
WELL NOT TO BE INCLUDED
Noted," by Stephanie Williams, struck a nerve. Miss Williams
admits to being obsessed with the back-patting "Alumni Notes,"
which appear in each edition. She also admits to being jealous of the
exploits of her peers and to a dark side of her "Note" obsession.
Thankfully, I have left behind a similar
period in life, although I admit to an occasional, fleeting sense of relief
whenever I fail to find my name in "Obituaries."
My reaction to you, Miss Williams,
and your views is: "Get real!" (Actually, in my humble opinion,
you did. Thank you.)
John D. Meier
ADVICE TO ADMINISTRATORS: LISTEN
MORE, TALK LESS
Re: EEOC and Gender Discrimination.
Normally, I disagree with every decision
Penn makes. However, on this one, Penn got it right. Barb Kirch is by
far the better rowing coach, both in experience, results and attachments
to Penn. It would have been hard for Penn to find a better coach to hire
Although I do find it ironic that Penn,
who lived by the sword, will now die by the sword. After leading the country
in political correctness and "water buffaloes," Penn is now
being sued for hiring a woman for the wrong reasons but with the right
result. Perhaps Penn administrators should listen more and talk less when
interviewing. All the sensitivity-training, racial- and sexual-awareness
classes do not take the place of common sense and manners.
Sean P. Colgan
Penn Valley, Pa.
OUTLAW GENDER-BASED TEAMS?
If the EEOC can charge Penn with "gender
discrimination" for simply wanting a female team to have a female
coach, then why hasnt EEOC banned gender-based teams in the first
ONE LAST SERVICE IN THE CAUSE
OF JUSTICE FOR "LOYAL SERVANT" OF PENN
The article "Of
Things Evil," by Derek Davis, in the July/August Gazette
mentions my grandfather, George Nitzsche L1898, who graduated in
the same class with Roy Wilson White. My grandfather collected the scrapbooks
of articles about Whites cruel murder and the communitys reaction
that Davis discovered in the Universitys archives and drew on for
the article. My grandfather was also "hired on" as part of the
Penn Law School team by Dean William Draper Lewis to serve as an administrator.
My grandfather served the University of Pennsylvania for 44 years in various
capacitiesincluding being the first editor of the Gazette
Perhaps it was his respect and admiration for Roy
Wilson White and the bizarre events surrounding his murder that made my
grandfather champion helping deserving blacks get financial aid to attend
the University. His efforts really hit home when I attended a Penn alumni
meeting in Atlanta 35 years ago. I sat next to a distinguished elderly
gentleman, one of the very few blacks in the room, who said very little
during the meal. He asked his table partners only one question: "Has
anyone news of George Nitzsche?" After telling him my granddad had
passed away, I asked how he knew him, and he replied, "He found a
way to finance my education at Penn."
The gentleman had just retired from teaching at
one of the predominantly black colleges in Atlanta. My grandfather, typically,
was ahead of his time at Penn but always deeply influenced by his repugnance
for prejudice and intolerance. The brutal killing of his friend Roy Wilson
White gave him an important "cause" throughout his long tenure
as a loyal servant of the University. His two daughters, Helma and Elsa,
both Penn graduates, are still-living examples of the values instilled
by their father, George Nitzsche.
George A. James
A photograph on page 27 of the Sept/Oct issue was misidentified
as the Law Schools Great Hall. It actually showed the Levy Conference
Center, a multi-media conference center being built on the second floor
of Silverman Hall, thanks to a gift made by Paul (L72) and Karen
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