Designs on the campus

Charlie Newman

University Architect Charlie Newman got a good education from his predecessor. Now he's ready to oversee the future development of Penn's physical space.

Ghosts of legendary architects permeate the lobby of the Facilities Services Division office, where Charlie Newman (FA’75, WG’81) works. Frank Furness, Paul Philippe Cret, Louis I. Kahn—their legacies of brick, stone and glass help give Penn its modern character.

Newman, who took on the job of university architect over the summer, is charged with preserving and enhancing that character, but not by designing buildings himself. What he does do is oversee the campus construction and landscaping program. Newman and his staff supervise the architects hired to build and renovate campus buildings, review designs, help set construction priorities and do landscape design work.

Newman’s predecessor, Titus Hewryk, left a detailed blueprint for the next 25 years in the form of the Campus Development Plan. But like all plans, it is not set in stone. Newman’s office has to figure out what parts of the plan need to be implemented right away, what parts can wait and what parts need revision. We spoke with him about some of the things we might see happening on the campus in the coming years.

Q. So what exactly is the job of the University Architect?
I prefer to talk more about the role of the Office of the University Architect. Our role is to be the steward of the campus, of the built environment and the landscape environment of the campus.

Q. You hold an MBA. How have you been able to apply what you learned at Wharton to your job as University Architect?
Well, my father asked me that question. [laughs] Well, I think that actually, this job brings together sort of the disparate aspects of my so-called career to date. I mean, certainly my architectural background, and I practiced architecture in Philadelphia off and on over the years, is germane to the job.

Charlie Newman

The architect with an MBA uses his knowledge of both design and finance to guide Penn’s construction program.

Photo by Candace diCarlo

The other aspect of the job is the real estate side and being able to make appropriate judgments about design issues having to do with real estate issues, and I spent about half of my career doing real estate development, project management.

Q. When did you join the Office of the Architect?
In March of 2000. I was here prior to that with Trammell Crow.

Q. And where were you before that?
I was in the Rendell administration. I was first deputy director of the Capital Program Office. And I left Trammell Crow to go back to the city to be director of the Capital Program Office at the end of the Rendell administration. And that position again also brought the business and the architecture together.

Q. Let’s suppose you had the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and remake the campus from the ground up. What would it look like?
Number one, I would not wipe the slate clean. There [are] terrific buildings on the campus, historically important, architecturally important, and it’s very important that those buildings be saved and renovated as Houston Hall was to bring them into the 21st century.

One of the great things about Penn is that it is in this urban environment and it has grown within the grid of streets and it has a wonderful texture that is varied as you move from block to block. …Building buildings that respond to what is around them over time really creates a rich environment to study and work.

There are things that need to be changed, and I worked with Titus on the Campus Development Plan and believe strongly in some of the ideas that were arrived at.

Q. For example?
The whole medical complex is very separate from the core. The north of Walnut is kind of seen as another area. And what the Campus Development Plan proposes is reinforcing the connection between these disparate sections of campus.

One of the most important [connections] is to integrate the area south of Hamilton Walk into the campus proper. You now head south on 36th Street walking, you walk right into a brick wall. And then you kind of have to find your way through the [Johnson Pavilion] lobby. Over time, we do intend to carve out at street level a walkway [through Johnson aligned with 36th Street].

The other piece of this is Locust Walk, which is a very important and beautiful feature of the campus, and we really want to reinforce that by extending it farther to the east…all the way to the river and have a pedestrian bridge over to Center City.

Talking about connections, as well, the extension of Woodland Walk to 33rd and Chestnut has turned out to be a very significant move in reality. Certainly, when you look at it on a drawing, it’s a natural thing to do, but what it has done in terms of connecting the campus to Drexel’s campus and to 30th Street has really been very, very important. And the extension across 38th Street at the other end of Woodland Walk will, I think, do the same thing, open the campus up to the southwest.

So there are opportunities to improve the connections within the campus.

There are also opportunities to either transform buildings that aren’t up to par from a design standpoint or to demolish them and rebuild. This group of buildings [points to the Stiteler-Education-Social Work-Psychology quadrangle on the map] are shown as being rebuilt, but Psychology, that building will be torn down when Life Sciences Phase II is built. These are not exceptional buildings. [And although] year before last, we did renovations to the Graduate School of Education, longer term, we can see this building being torn down. The level of investment put in the building was such that in 10, 15 years, we will have gotten our value out of it.

Q. Of the as-yet-unfunded projects which would you say is the most important?
I think there are two ways to look at that question. One is from the function and the life of the campus, what’s going to be the most transformative project. I think certainly the addition of low rise housing in Hamilton Village will really create a much stronger sense of community.

Building projects on and off the drawing board

With three major projects—Wharton’s Huntsman Hall, Pottruck Fitness Center and the Dental School’s Schattner Center—either finished or well on the way to completion, what projects will keep Newman busy in the future? Here are some of them.

Hamilton Village high rise renovations: The six-year project to install sprinklers, upgrade elevators and make structural repairs on the three undergraduate high rises began this summer.

Levine Hall: The new home for Penn’s computer science research is taking shape behind the Moore School’s Graduate Research Wing in the 3300 block of Walnut Street.

Life Sciences Building: Work on expanded research space for the Biology Department will begin this academic year. Further down the road: a new home for the Psychology Department connecting this building to Leidy Labs, which is at 38th Street and Hamilton Walk.

School of Veterinary Medicine: While a new research building for the Vet School is a definite item, no groundbreaking date has been set yet for the facility to be located just south of the old Veterinary Hospital building at 38th and Baltimore.

Projects on the near-term wish list include completing the restoration of College Hall, renovating Bennett Hall, expansion of the Hospital onto the Civic Center site, and a privately-built, mixed-use project at 34th and Chestnut.

One planned change that is now off the drawing board is the demolition of Stouffer College House at 38th and Spruce. Learn more about the Campus Development Plan at


Originally published on September 5, 2002