By: Jorge Penado, C’19
International Relations Major
Work-Study Student, Sweeten Alumni House
When one thinks about Penn and the buildings that define it College Hall, built in 1871, and Fisher Fine Arts Library, built in 1890, stand out as notably beautiful staples of campus. However, one common feature that these buildings have is that they were all built before the 21st century. Now, this begs the question of what new and innovative buildings has Penn invested in the current century and how has this shaped and influenced the landscape that Penn students have become accustomed to. Some notable new additions to the family of buildings include Huntsman Hall and Perry World House, but there are still so many other interesting additions to Penn’s campus.
Within the first decade of the century, Penn had already celebrated the opening of various buildings or centers around campus. As mentioned above, Huntsman Hall has now become such a staple of Wharton, established in 1881, that it’s interesting to realize that it was opened in 2002. It is considered one of the largest new projects the university has engaged in with an estimated cost of $140 million and 300,000-square-feet. It’s red exterior and circular shape at the corner of Walnut St. and 38th St. has definitely defined the university’s landscape. In addition to Wharton, but on a smaller scale and on 37th St. and Spruce St. there lies the Platt Student Performing Arts House opened in 2006 which has become a center of the arts community at Penn. The center has six state-of-the-art rehearsal rooms, storage, and six administrative offices in the basement of Stouffer College House. While at one point it was the Stouffer Dining Hall, it now holds a much-needed expansion of space for performing arts students. The center is named after Marc Platt, a Penn alumnus who was involved in the Glee Club but is now known for producing shows like Legally Blonde and Broadway’s Wicked, gifted the university with $1 million to help the arts at Penn. Both of these buildings have been vital in centralizing two different communities and helping students improve their time at Penn.
On another hand, Penn has also invested in further expanding the campus outwards, farther from Locust, with the FMC Tower and the Pennovation Center. The FMC Tower, opened in 2016, lies on the corner of Walnut St. and the Schuylkill River and is part of a new three-building project, Cira Centre South, which is meant to host office, retail and residential spaces. The university owns the plot of land and signed a 20-year lease which allows the university to use 100,000 square-feet of office space, currently used by the Office of Investments, Development and Alumni Relations office, the Office of General Counsel and the Office of Risk Management. As an introduction of skyscrapers into University City, the FMC Tower definitely draws attention westward as the seventh tallest building in Philadelphia and viewable from anywhere on campus. On another end of campus, the new Pennovation Center was opened in 2016 south of campus and across the Schuylkill River on Grays Ferry Avenue. This building is a part of a larger campus of buildings, “The Pennovation Works,” which consists of a 23-acre property meant to provide students and faculty with offices, labs and production space. The center is meant to be a hub for the connection between intellectual and entrepreneurial projects on Penn’s campus and has hosted various startups. Both of these buildings redefine what Penn’s campus is by physically extending the area but also introducing new ways to interact with the world outside of Penn.
Then, we have two relatively new buildings with a focus on advancing academics at Penn, the Perry World House and the Singh Center for Nanotechnology. Perry World House, opened in 2016, lies on the corner of Locust Walk and 38th Street, next to Kelly Writers House, and is meant to offer an international community of students, provide space for educational public forums and host global innovation programs, fellowships, and Penn’s own think tank. As someone personally interested in this field, I’ve been able to attend events hosted by the center such as a Conversation with Madeleine Albright or an Event with Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj. Similarly, but in a different field, the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, opened in 2013, is a collaborative building between the College and Engineering meant to merge “traditional approaches to nanoscale development with unique state-of-the-art equipment, materials, and ideas.” Similar to Perry World House, this center is a hub for scientists and researchers meant to be leaders in the growing nanotech field. It also doesn’t hurt that the building is particularly impressive and unique as compared to other campus buildings. Both of these buildings are actively promoting advancements in their respective field by engaging with research and the world to place Penn on a track forward.
Ultimately, while Penn has a long architectural history dating back to the colonial era, we’re lucky to see the campus continue to grow. Even now, there are various projects in the works like the Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics on the corner of 36th St. and Walnut St. meant to unite these two fields under one roof. The university continues to grow and as long as it promotes the values of the university and respects all of the history and communities around us, the future is welcomed with open arms at Penn.