The future in concrete and glass

With the opening of Levine Hall, the School of Engineering and Applied Science took a big step into the high-tech future. The next step will begin in mid-June, when demolition begins on the Pender Laboratories connecting the Towne and Moore buildings.

In its place will rise Skirkanich Hall, the new home for the Bioengineering Department.

Designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Skirkanich, like Levine, breaks dramatically from Penn’s traditional architectural vocabulary of red brick, offering a facade of glass and glazed brick treated to resemble weathered stone.

In addition to ventilated lab space, the building includes an auditorium and landscaping for the new courtyard formed by the completion of Levine.

SEAS Dean Eduardo Glandt said, “Although it’s sad to have to tear [Pender] down, we have committed to put in its place a much better building.” Pender, designed in 1958 by Richard Geddes, is considered one of the architect’s pioneering early works. But, Glandt said, “inside, it’s all obstacles—the offices are too small and the ceilings too low.”

Taken together, Levine and Skirkanich make the SEAS buildings a unified whole, greatly improving circulation among them. Glandt described Levine, which connects the 1906 Towne Building with the 1968 Graduate Research Wing, as a design challenge.

“ I demanded that the building connect to both structures at all floors,” Glandt said. “It was a difficult 3-D puzzle for the architects to solve, and they have done so.” Kieran/Timberlake Associates designed the structure.

The new buildings bring other changes with them. Chancellor Street is being transformed from a service roadway for Towne into a landscaped walk terminating at Levine’s main entrance. The former garage space at the back of Towne will be transformed into the Accenture Cybercafe and the lower floors of the Graduate Research Wing—now part of Levine—will house workshop and display space for Penn’s solar car team and the Weiss Tech House, the campus technology hub.

Originally published on May 15, 2003