Mellon Foundation Awards $1.3 Million to the University of Pennsylvania for Humanities and Urbanism Studies

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Media Contact:Deborah Lang | dlang@upenn.edu | 215-880-2372April 18, 2013

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $1.3 million grant to the University of Pennsylvania for a five-year innovative, collaborative project entitled Fulfilling and Livable Cities: Design, Urban Life and the Humanities. The Schools of Arts and Sciences (SAS) and Design (PennDesign), and the Penn Institute of Urban Research (Penn IUR) will be the focus of program activity with participation spread throughout the University.

“We are enormously grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its support of interdisciplinary research that promises to have an impact on real-world deliberations surrounding the future of cities,” said President Amy Gutmann. “We fully expect this program to generate knowledge that will inspire new and renewed urban forms in the 21st century and beyond.”

The grant will create new cross-disciplinary study and research among scholars and students in the fields of design and the humanities, with the aim of advancing the potential and promise of urban life.  Through new courses, symposia, and publications, the project will explore connections between the built environment and the arts, history, and culture that underpin cities. The project will be initiated in Fall 2013 through the launch of the Mellon Fulfilling and Livable Cities Colloquium, a five-year multi-generational, multi-disciplinary study group composed of 20 Penn faculty members and students with rotating terms.

“We have such a rich and diverse group of scholars here at Penn,” said Rebecca Bushnell, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our faculty to work together across disciplines, to create new knowledge and to think deeply about the complexities and nuances of urban life.”

The grant will support new undergraduate and graduate classes, including two undergraduate seminars—one focused on a domestic city and one on an international city—that will include site visits. These courses will each be jointly developed and taught collaboratively by design and humanities professors.

“These are precisely the sorts of courses that integrate knowledge and lead to new, exciting avenues of student exploration and learning,” says Steve Fluharty, Senior Vice Provost for Research. The grant will also support curricular enhancements to existing programs; student research; a yearly public lecture series at Penn; sponsorship of panels at scholarly conferences; and publication of research generated from the colloquium. 

”At Penn the territories of individual schools and programs are easily bridged by the commitment of faculty and students to pursue cross-boundary research and to create amazing and eye-opening connections through shared visions and insights,” says Marilyn Jordan Taylor, Dean and Paley Professor of Architecture and City Planning at the School of Design. “The Mellon grant is an extraordinary opportunity to bring new academic and applied perspectives to the opportunities and challenges of urban life around the globe and at home in Philadelphia.”

The project will bring together faculty members from diverse disciplines, as well as undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students. In addition, the project will attract new visiting professors and PhDs to Penn; it will also host international urban experts and will support researchers at professional conferences presenting papers that integrate humanities and urbanism.

The project will be co-led by David Brownlee, Frances Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor of Art History and Chair of the Graduate Group in the History of Art, and Eugenie Birch, Lawrence C. Nussdorf Professor of Urban Research and Education in PennDesign’s Department of City and Regional Planning, Chair of the Graduate Group in City Planning, and Co-Director of Penn IUR. The project will be guided by an advisory committee of the two deans and key faculty members.

“I can’t imagine a better place than Penn—or a better city than Philadelphia—to undertake this project on urbanism and urban life,” says Brownlee. “Our hope is that it will allow students and faculty to work together to better understand the city in which we live—and cities generally— and to think critically about the possibilities of urban life.”

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