With the majority of Penn students away from campus this summer, the University’s construction activity has increased conspicuously all the way from the Schuylkill River to 40th street.
By the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year, the University is scheduled to complete at least six of its varied construction projects. While new buildings and renovations are sometimes taken for granted by students, the development of new construction projects is an intricate one that involves different University stakeholders.
The centerpiece of the University’s ongoing construction is the New College House — located on Chestnut Street between 33rd and 34th streets — which is expected to be completed by August 2016. The $127 million project will house 350 students and include a dining facility, common spaces and a courtyard, according to Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services.
The New College House, along with all other major construction projects, are part of the University’s campus planning strategic vision called Penn Connects. To make all the projects envisioned in the 35 year plan a reality, FRES consults closely with Penn President Amy Gutmann and the deans of the different schools and centers — all of who have to ensure funding for new projects. Architects and engineers at FRES then oversee the construction and renovation of new buildings, while also contracting outside firms.
“Everything was very carefully calibrated [in Penn Connects] and also very carefully coordinated with the development people for fundraising purposes. We were careful to only envision based on what we thought our development capacity was of raising money, with some stretch goals,” said 1982 College graduate Mark A. Kocent, the principal planner at FRES.
When considering any particular project, Penn works to cohesively integrate long-term campus planning goals, fundraising strategies, structural designs, construction and, finally, the operation and maintenance of new projects.
Kocent specified that both FRES and Gutmann were very involved in the selection of the architectural firm — Bohlin Cywinski Jackson — that ended up sketching the designs for the New College House. The same firm has also worked on planning and designs for the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City and the pavilion that currently houses the Liberty Bell, according to Kocent.
Another building, The Perry World House — which will be located on 3803 Locust Walk next to the Kelly Writers House — is scheduled to be completed by April 2016. The new building — with an estimated $18.7 million construction cost — will house many of Penn’s global initiatives and will have an auditorium, classrooms and offices.
The new building will be a renovation and expansion of a historical cottage built in the 1850s, one of the oldest buildings on campus according to Kocent. When constructing on or around antique buildings, Penn seeks to harmonize contemporary design with the existing historical structures on campus.
“We encourage architects to design buildings of contemporary times, buildings of their age,” said Kocent. “[They should] have the feeling or the DNA of being part of Penn, yet it should look like a contemporary building.”
Both Kocent and Michael J. Dausch — executive director of design & construction management at FRES — pinpointed the designs of Golkin Hall, the ARCH and the Music Building as examples of this balance between traditional and contemporary aesthetic envisioning.
Not only will Penn students witness new academic and residential buildings next year, but landmark administrative buildings as well. The 49-story, 730-foot FMC Tower — located by the Schuylkill River on 30th Street and Chestnut Street — is expected to be completed by June 2016. The $385 million tower will house the global headquarters of FMC Corporation, 260 extended stay luxury apartments and four floors of administrative University offices.
The FMC Tower is part of the University’s overarching plan to continue expanding Penn’s campus east towards and across the Schuykill River. Penn Park and the University’s ongoing construction in the postal lands by the river are a testimony to that. In fact, Penn is currently constructing Pennovation Works across the river on the intersection of 34th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue.
According to the Penn Connects website the “twenty-three acre former heavy industrial site offers the opportunity to accommodate a variety of uses that support the academic and research mission of both University clients and third-party commercial tenants.”
Kocent reasoned that the University has hit its limits in its expansion west because of the West Philadelphia residential areas and north because of Drexel’s growing presence. East towards the City seems to be Penn’s new frontier.
“It’s natural for institutions like ours to continue to evolve and I think what we have tried to do is to have a much better balance with the community,” said Kocent.
Another significant building, the $81.6 million expansion of the Mod 7 Chiller Plant — which supplies air conditioning to other campus buildings — is expected to be finished by the summer of 2016. The $66.6 million Neural and Behavioral Sciences Building — located on 38th Street and Baltimore Avenue — is expected to be completed by spring next year.
Both the $1.5 million fourth-floor studio renovation of Meyerson Hall and the full demolition and replacement of the existing track at Franklin Field are expected to be completed by September 2015, rounding up the rest of construction around campus.
A previous version of this article said construction on the Mod 7 Chiller Plant would be finished by the summer of 2015. It will actually be completed by the summer of 2016. The DP regrets the error.
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