Designing Green

The Physical Environment at Penn

One of the world’s most attractive urban campuses, Penn is home to significant achievements in planning, landscape design, and architecture. The award-winning Penn Connects campus development plan is steering Penn’s commitment to a healthy built environment.

The Plan will continue to build upon the University’s tradition of excellence with the implementation of the Climate Action Plan. At the center of the Penn Connects plan is Penn Park, a 24-acre recreational facility that will transform impervious asphalt into green open space. Penn will also continue to invest in sustainable city planning polices in the surrounding compact West Philadelphia neighborhood.

Implementing the Climate Action Plan will:

  • Adopt LEED Silver Certification, with Penn-specific goals as a minimum standard for new construction and major renovations
  • Add 20 percent more green space to Penn’s campus, while naturally cooling our buildings with green roofs
  • Establish protocols for sustainable campus planning

Campus Development

Penn Connects


Penn Connects incorporates a number of sustainable development recommendations, especially in the east campus expansion area. The landscape strategy increases the amount of campus green space and uses site-adapted indigenous tree and shrub species. The plan orients new buildings in response to solar and natural ventilation, and recommends LEED certification for all new buildings, to minimize the use of natural resources, reduce energy use, improve indoor environmental quality, and mitigate burdens of new buildings on the ecosystem.

To learn more about Penn Connects sustainable approach to development, click here.

Morris Arboretum Horticultural Center


The new Horticultural Center at Morris Arboretum will be an exhibit on sustainability, incorporating educational signage and a tour program of the project's sustainable features. Parts of the complex will have a planted green roof and use state-of-the-art energy management systems. Storm water and gray water will be recycled in innovative ways, using rain gardens with native plant species and cistern storage to reduce potable use for irrigation and sewage conveyance.

The project will serve as Penn’s first structure planned to achieve Platinum Level LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, if achieved, the Horticulture Center will be the first newly constructed, not-for-profit Platinum Level LEED® Certified building in the greater Philadelphia region, and only the second Platinum Level LEED® Certified building in the entire state of Pennsylvania.

To learn more about the Morris Arboretum, click here.

Fagin Hall Green Roof

Koo Plaza Green Roof

Kings Court English College House Green Roof


One of the most significant environmental challenges facing Philadelphia is pollution of its rivers.  Like many of America's older cities, Philadelphia has a combined sewer/stormwater system, in which underground sewer pipes also carry away excess stormwater after a rainfall.  During significant rain events, excess stormwater from city roofs, roads and parking lots can overwhelm the sewage treatment plants, resulting in untreated sewage being washed directly into the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers.

Since a good portion of the city is comprised of rooftops, one of the key strategies to reducing stormwater runoff is using green roofs, roofs planted with vegetation or grasses, to slow the passage of rainwater into the sewer system.  In cooperation with the Philadelphia Water Department Office of Watersheds, Penn is exhibiting best practices in sustainability by installing green roofs on a number of buildings.  By capturing rainwater and reducing it slowly over time, Penn's green roofs lessen the burden on the West Philadelphia sewer system, while providing several additional environmental benefits.

Green roofing systems help keep the top floor of a building cooler by reducing the rooftop temperature during hot months, while the plants and soil insulate the building from sub-zero temperatures and icy winds in the winter.  The plantings extend the life of the roof waterproofing membrane by protecting it from UV light and extreme temperature swings.  In addition, green roofs can provide a habitat for a number of insect and bird species, increasing urban biodiversity and creating a healthier ecosystem.

Living landscapes above Penn building spaces are located at the Hill Pavilion of the Vet School, Koo Plaza at Huntsman Hall, Nursing’s Claire Fagin Hall courtyard, Kings Court English College House, and The Radian apartment complex.

Read More:
Kings Court/English House Green Roof
Fagin Hall Green Roof

College Hall

Irvine Hall


Well built, durable lasting buildings are our most sustainable tradition:
College Hall (1873)
Logan/Cohen Hall (1874)
Fisher Fine Arts Library (1891)
Houston Hall (1896)
University Museum (1895-99)
Law School, Silverman Hall (1900)
Towne Building (1906)
Franklin Field (1922-25)
The Palestra and Hutchinson Gym (1928)
The Quadrangle (1894-1959)

*Data is from Building America's First University: An Historical and Architectural Guide to the University of Pennsylvania 2000 by Penn's George E. Thomas, Lecturer of Historical Preservation and Urban Studies and David B. Brownlee, Professor and Chair, History of Art.

Irvine Auditorium (pictured left) was dedicated with the Curtis Sesquicentennial Exposition Organ on May 9, 1929. The building's design was directed by the Horace Trumbauer firm, led by chief designer Julian Abele, the first African-American graduate of Penn's School of Architecture (1902).

Moore School Building

Hayden Hall


Sustainability requires not only looking at present and future needs, but also drawing upon the lessons and resources from the past. Adaptive Reuse of buildings is now an important part of the sustainability movement. This year, the University celebrated the tenth anniversary of the restoration of Logan Hall, now named Claudia Cohen Hall. Built in 1874 by Thomas Webb Richards, Penn’s first professor of architecture, it is the second oldest building on campus. Its renovation was completed long before such efforts were connected to sustainability initiatives. Other examples of adaptive reuse on Penn’s Campus include:

  • The Moore School, where the world's first computer (ENIAC) was created, was originally the Pepper Musical Instrument Factory (1909)
  • Hayden Hall (1896) was built as Dental Hall, and later used for the School of Architecture, Geology and now for Bioengineering.

More recent projects, primarily housing research labs, have featured flexible space planning to accommodate ever changing programmatic needs over the life of the building:
Clinical Research Building (1990)
Vagelos Laboratories (1998)
Biological Research Building II/III (1999)
New Research Building at Center for Advanced Medicine (2008)

Button on College Green

Locust Walk

Civic House Garden



Penn has championed sustainable landscape practices for many years. In the late sixties, Ian McHarg, Landscape Architect and founder of Penn’s Graduate School of Fine Arts Program in Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning published the book Design with Nature. This was a landmark endeavor calling attention to the notion of designing and implementing projects with respect for nature. The ideas of responsible ecological planning and development such as urban planning, reducing runoff, permeable paving systems, and native plant materials were brought to the forefront of design by this book.

In the early 1970's, the Graduate School of Fine Arts, in conjunction with Facilities Planning and Development produced a plan and later implemented the renovation of College Green. This inspired and helped establish the protocols for design review,  and implementing campus landscape improvements.

Over the past 25 years many projects large and small have incorporated the principals of reducing runoff, permeable paving systems, native plant material and the re use of landscape materials (stone pavers, bricks etc.).

Some of these projects are:

  • College Green's amphitheater, constructed of former curbstones of 36th Street
  • Class of 1959 Plaza at 37th and Locust paved with materials from the demolished Annenberg School plaza
  • The Biology Gardens, now Kaskey Park (c. 1890) built to serve the adjacent Biology program and still contains historic tree specimens, a pond and aquatic life
  • Greening of the campus, eliminating pavement and promoting a pedestrian environment
  • Closing Locust Street from 36th to 37th Streets (1963)
  • Closing Woodland Avenue and putting the trolley below grade (1956)
  • Ian McHarg designs the landscape “park-lets” along Woodland Walk from 36th to 37th Streets. (c. 1957)
  • University Landscape Master Plan of 1976 led by Sir Peter Shepheard, Dean of the Graduate School of Fine Arts, created Blanche Levy Park and established the current landscape vocabulary that we continue today.
  • Redesign of the Quadrangle landscape featuring sustainable landscape design details and native plantings by Andropogon Associates (2002).
  • Design of 125 Years of Women at Penn at Woodland Walk featuring storm water management and rain garden - Jenny Holzer/Olin Partnership (2004).
  • Civic House Garden, utilizing recycled pavers and native plantings (2007).

Furthermore, Penn has assisted neighborhood projects with site improvements by sharing recycled stone and plants, notably the Clark Park Farmers Market area, Schuylkill River Park Landscape, and Powelton Community Gardens, to name a few.

In the past 20 years we've removed close to five acres of pavement on campus, now parks and gardens; planted about 5,000 trees; and have salvaged and re-used almost 40,000 square feet of pavers.