“Building America’s First University: An Historical and Architectural Guide to the University of Pennsylvania”



George E. Thomas and David B. Brownlee
400 pages, 374 black-and-white and 16 color illustrations, 5 maps, $45.00 cloth

“Building America’s First University” tells a story that begins with Benjamin Franklin’s notion that learning ought not to be restricted to a leading religion or class. His college’s original emphasis on modern languages, the natural sciences, contemporary literature and professional education, radical in its time, went on to become the model of American higher education.

Since its founding, the University has charted a course between innovation and convention. These changes are evident in the architecture and character of the three campuses that have been its home. From Franklin’s adaptation of a nonsectarian chapel as the institution’s first quarters to Frank Furness’ innovative University Library and Louis Kahn’s momentous Richards Medical Research Laboratory, Penn’s buildings can be seen as illuminating the evolving intentions of the University’s leaders.

Written by Penn architectural historians George E. Thomas and David B. Brownlee, “Building America’s First University” uses the physical evidence of Penn’s campuses and buildings to illustrate the development of this landmark institution in American education.

Part one recounts Penn’s history, weaving together the often conflicting interests and goals of trustees, administrators, alumni, and students that have shaped the institution of today.

Part two is a gazetteer to the campus in its present form, 250 years after Franklin wrote his “Proposals for the Education of Youth in Pensilvania.” Here the authors describe every significant building on campus, with at least one photograph of each. Coming at the end of 50 years of Penn’s massive growth, this is the first comprehensive architectural history of the University since the early 20th century.

—University of Pennsylvania Press


Originally published on May 18, 2000