A Q&A with Huntsman Hall architect A. Eugene Kohn

Huntsman Hall opened on campus 12 years ago

· March 31, 2014, 6:58 pm   ·  Updated April 2, 2014, 2:11 am

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A. Eugene Kohn, the architect of Huntsman Hall, visited Penn last Thursday to give a speech on his career in architecture. The founder and chairman of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the architecture firm behind the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the renovated Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Kohn received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from Penn in 1953 and 1957, respectively. He served in the United States Navy for three years before returning to Penn for his master’s degree. The Daily Pennsylvanian had the opportunity to talk to him about stories behind Huntsman Hall.

The Daily Pennsylvanian: Why does Huntsman Hall look like this?

A. Eugene Kohn: You’d like to think that it is the architect’s vision, but in reality there are many forces. One is the University itself and their view of themselves at the time — the administrations and trustees. The building was designed to represent Penn’s history. The building was to be stable, and parts of the materials are traditional. But it is still a modern building, using those materials. From the energy point of view, this works pretty well as well.

So it was about stability. It was about being part of the campus, yet moving the campus up.

Wharton is [an] undergraduate and graduate school. You want a place where they come together. It was intended primarily for graduates and undergrads and professors to have a place to be and to talk casually and exchange information. That was the main purpose.

If we would use pink or green, things that aren’t really part of the campus but would really stand out, it may not relate to the school. So consistency is good. There is a sense of order.

DP : I’ve noticed that the color of Huntsman Hall is very similar to that of Fisher Fine Arts Library.

AEK: That’s one of my favorite buildings. ... If you look at that building, that’s old Penn. It says something about [permanence] and something about stability.

[Huntsman Hall] is about confidence. It’s about power. In a way, it represents a strong point about what business is about — strength, leadership and something that’s going to run for a long long time.

The other thing is the shape of the building is round. It really provides equality for all the professors. The offices are the same. Views are different depending where you are, but the whole idea was [that] there were no corners. If somebody has a corner office, that’s more important. Everybody has a similar office. So that was a democratic gesture to the professors.

DP: Before you came to Penn, did you know that you wanted to study architecture?

AEK: I was not sure about being an architect. I painted as a boy and I drew. Liked buildings and models. I played the piano. So it was artistic. My mother is a great designer — clothes. Actually in her 100s , she had a show at the Guggenheim. My background was a lot about art and creativity. So falling into architecture is kind of natural. But I wanted to be a sportscaster ... I like sports.

My father was from the medical [field]. He is a researcher and a doctor, so he would preferred [I] go into medicine. But my mom loves the arts, so I chose [the arts]. I also thought about law ... I wasn’t sure.

When I came to Penn, the dean back then told me ‘you should study architecture. Even if you don’t become one, the education here is outstanding. You can still do a lot of things. You still study physics, math, language, history and English.’ I listened to him. I came here to the architecture school. Then I discovered that I liked it.

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