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Penn and community leaders hope the plans open up 40th Street. Nearly three decades since the first high-rise residence was constructed on the plot of land then known as Superblock, University administrators have returned to the site with a new vision for the area, the dormitories within and its relationship to the community beyond. "I think we're looking for a group of distinctive architectural and humanistic communities, living in an environment of interesting, smaller-scaled public spaces and dynamically related to the surrounding community," Director of College Houses and Academic Services David Brownlee said. This time around the University is taking a different tack in its approach to Superblock, renamed Hamilton Village last year. Above all, officials are striving to make sure the area is no longer a campus eyesore and that West Philadelphia community leaders are consulted on the project, which lies adjacent to 40th Street. To help them realize that vision, officials have outlined four primary goals for the redesign of Hamilton Village as part of Penn's 10-year, $300 million dorm and dining overhaul, which will create 1,000 new beds through the construction of new residences and the renovation of existing buildings. "Fix the old housing, build new housing, make the exterior environment more attractive and put a very active edge around the campus where it meets the neighborhood -- those are all pretty strongly felt objectives [of] the administration," Brownlee said. Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Professor Laurie Olin -- whose architectural firm created a campus development plan that studied the feasibility of adding new beds to the area -- referred to the current configuration of Superblock as "the sins of a previous generation." Brownlee said that the original architects of Superblock also had a vision, but that vision was very different from the way officials see the Hamilton Village of the future. "They believed that skyscrapers were beautiful," Brownlee said. "We want to create an urban environment that is more integrated." Another major goal of the current administration is opening the block up to the neighborhood beyond, Brownlee said. "We don't want a walled community," Brownlee said. "We don't want a situation in which the neighborhood doesn't feel that the University participates with them in some sort of community enterprise." Officials hope that by bringing ground-floor retail into the residences along 40th Street they can create "an amenity that's shared by both the University and the community," Brownlee said. "We're trying also to use the project to help the 40th Street and Walnut Street commercial area," Olin said. Spruce Hill Community Association President Barry Grossbach applauded the University's efforts to create a more inviting transition between the western edge of Penn's campus and the neighborhood beyond. Grossbach said that retail on both sides of 40th Street "sends a message that people are really welcome on both sides of 40th Street." To aid in the new vision Penn invited six architectural firms last spring to compete for the right to help redesign Hamilton Village. Two architectural firms -- the Philadelphia-based Kieran, Timberlake and Harris as well as Vancouver, British Columbia-based Patkau architects -- were selected earlier this semester from the original group of six to determine if specific parts of their designs can be implemented. Through the renovation of existing buildings, particularly the high rises, officials hope to make the residences in Hamilton Village more functional as college houses, with more social and academic space and room configurations that create community, Brownlee said. "These are not buildings that were designed to be college houses," Brownlee said of the three high rises.

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