Bennett Reborn

It’s hard to say which aspect of the $21 million renovation of Bennett Hall is the most striking.

It might be the clever reworking of the former Penniman library on the building’s second floor—named for the English professor and long-time Penn provost Josiah Penniman, but for a quarter century a largely neglected space—into four seminar rooms and a student lounge with a soaring, two-story ceiling.

Or the stunning transformation of the fourth floor from a mazy warren of graduate-assistant cubicles into a music performance and lecture space—the 100-seat Rose Recital Hall—and practice rooms for use by the Music Department.

Or, though it’s a little harder to imagine in winter, a feature that’s not inside the building at all—the new Bok Garden, carved out of unused space on the south side.

Whichever, for an old English major, walking into the renamed Fisher-Bennett Hall (to recognize the leadership gift of Richard Fisher C’63 G’67) for an opening celebration attended by hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and alumni in January was a heady, somewhat disorienting experience.

The renovation was careful to preserve signature architectural elements like the main lobby, marble hallways, and grand staircase. But even familiar elements have a new luster—with the staircase, for example, renovations uncovered an original skylight that has been restored, opening the center of the building to natural light.

Less apparent, but no less welcome to the students and faculty who will use Fisher-Bennett Hall, the windows have been replaced, classrooms have been equipped with modern multi-media technology, the air-and-heating systems have been modernized, extensive soundproofing has been installed to cut street noise, and lighting has been improved throughout.

Besides the added facilities for the Music Department, the new Cinema Studies program [“Now Showing at Penn,” Jan/Feb 2005], which is also housed in Fisher-Bennett, got a library and screening rooms as part of the project. In addition, the building will be home to English language programs and the primary teaching space for Penn’s Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing; in all it will serve more than 240 courses in 40 departments and programs per semester.—J.P.

©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 03/03/06

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