Penn Praxis offers real-world practice for Design students

Penn Praxis

Penn Praxis students at work on a Penn’s Landing design charrette.

Got a design problem you want solved? Put it to Penn Praxis.

Penn Praxis is the student-faculty clinical consulting practice in the School of Design. Much like the legal clinics most law schools operate do for future lawyers, Penn Praxis gives students across the Design School the opportunity to gain real-world problem-solving experience while helping community and civic groups that cannot afford professional services.

The practice has taken on 15 projects since its creation in the fall of 2001, ranging in scope from landscaping projects at the Wilson Elementary School in West Philadelphia to a long-range planning project for the Jarong Harbor industrial district in Singapore.

Its highest-profile project to date—at least locally—is the series of public forums on the future of Penn’s Landing it organized with The Philadelphia Inquirer last spring. “Our involvement with the Inquirer on Penn’s Landing has given us some recognition,” said Penn Praxis Executive Director Harris M. Steinberg C’78, MArch’82.

“The Penn’s Landing project would not have happened without the involvement of Penn Praxis,” said Inquirer Editorial Page Editor Chris Satullo. “We know how to stimulate conversations. What we did not have was access to expertise in architecture, landscape design and planning that resided in the School of Design, and that was what Harris Steinberg and Dean Gary Hack brought to the table through their contacts in the planning community.”

In addition to providing the Inquirer with connections to professional architects willing to contribute their time to the project, Penn Praxis furnished Design students who helped organize and participated in the design charrettes that produced the three redevelopment models that were evaluated at the public forums.

Steinberg, who disbanded his private architectural practice to become Penn Praxis’s executive director, credits Hack with getting the program off the ground. “He came from MIT, where there was a culture of entrepreneurialism,” he said. “He wanted to stimulate that here.”

Steinberg and Hack worked together on thinking out the program. “Then, when the chance arose to head it, I thought about it and said I was willing. Hack said, ‘Welcome aboard.’”

What Penn Praxis does not yet share with its legal-services cousins is the capacity to perform pro bono work. Fees charged by Penn Praxis cover the program’s modest operating costs. “Our goal is to build up a reserve of funds so we can be pro bono,” Steinberg said.

Similarly, while community service is a component of Penn Praxis’ mission, it covers a broader range of projects as well. “Students across the board are hungering for real-world experiences while in school,” Steinberg said, and Penn Praxis provides them.

Students and faculty in all Design School departments participate in Penn Praxis projects.

All of the projects the program has taken on so far have come through word of mouth. “We’ve developed a reputation, and it spread,” Steinberg said.

If you would like to have Penn Praxis take on your design project, or for more information, visit the program’s web site, www.upenn.edu/gsfa/pennpraxis, or call 215-573-8719.

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Originally published on October 30, 2003