The President's Report on the State of the University

The Campus Master Plan: A Work in Progress

In the past year I have spoken with you often about the progress of Agenda for Excellence, the University's strategic plan. Today I would like to devote my report to a part of campus life that is integral to the success of Agenda for Excellence--and Penn--and that is the campus master plan.

One of the metaphors that the Provost and I have used to describe Agenda for Excellence is that of "pathways." Each pathway at Penn leads--quite literally--to some exciting place of study, research, or recreation. You might hurry to class beneath the leafy overhangs of Locust Walk. You might study on a bench along the trails of the Bio Pond. Or you might dodge frisbees on College Green. The common denominator of each of these scenarios is the physical pathways of the campus. These pathways, the buildings that line them, and use of our public and private spaces are very much part of University life. The condition, appearance, and function of our campus facilities all directly affect every aspect of Penn. And the campus planning underway reflects that. In particular, virtually every school is planning for its space needs in connection with Agenda for Excellence, and we will try to meet those needs.

Strategically planning the physical layout of our campus is part of planning for the intellectual life, the safety, and the social experience of students, faculty and staff at Penn.

Let me give you an example. When I was a student at Penn in the '60s, trolley tracks ran across the core of the campus. It was my predecessor as president, Gaylord Harnwell, who had the foresight to pave the way for what is now Blanche Levy Park, our College Green. President Harnwell understood the needs of the campus and he knew the direction he wanted the campus to take. Certainly his decision was not made in isolation; and neither are the decisions in the campus master plan I will talk about today. Like all good strategic planning, the development of the campus master plan is not a wish list or a first-aid kit full of quick fixes. It is a plan that takes into account the current needs of the Penn community. And it is a plan that looks ahead to the needs of students, faculty and staff that will follow us. It is, truly, a work in progress.

"Obsolete," "temporary," and "disposable" are not words that university planners have in mind when they are designing a campus. Good university planners think ahead, not just to the next month, or the next year, but to the next generations. Universities are built to last.

When the University of Pennsylvania moved to West Philadelphia in 1872, the campus consisted of just two buildings: College Hall and Logan Hall. Just two buildings. Those two original structures still stand, even now that our campus has expanded to more than 100 buildings and spans more than 250 acres. There are scores of reasons for such profound growth, and many of them are the reasons we continue to build and renovate. Let me mention three of them:

A vibrant campus master plan will ensure that Penn grows and changes with the times, and it aims to ensure that our facilities meet the needs of the Penn community today--and tomorrow. Let me show you what's in store.

-- President Judith Rodin at University Council November 13, 1996

Principles for Campus Development

[Ed. Note: Penn last published a campus master plan in Almanac May 17, 1988--a document developed for the University by the GSFA-based Center for Environmental Design and Planning. Later Dr. Robert Zemsky and the Office of Institutional Planning worked with the renowned firm of Venturi, Scott Brown to refine the "Principles of Campus Development" that were first articulated in 1992 and discussed informally with Council, Trustees and other bodies at that time. At Council last week, after delivering the introduction at left, Dr. Rodin summarized an approach to a campus master plan that is based on these principles and linked to Penn's Agenda for Excellence and its priorities.]

  1. The campus of the University of Pennsylvania ought to reflect Penn's standing as Philadelphia's pre-eminent educational institution.

  2. The Penn campus ought to continue its development as an urban park--a place in, but not always of, the City.

  3. The Development of the Penn campus ought to reflect the ambitions of its Schools and faculties, providing each with a strong physical center and overlapping links with its neighbors.

  4. The development of the Penn campus ought to reflect the University's architectural history and traditions.
  5. The development of the campus ought to provide for the preservation of Penn's historic treasures while recognizing that not all old buildings are architectural treasures.
  6. Penn's buildings ought to maintain the dominant cityscape scale of the current campus, which features buildings of medium height that, in their placement, relate to the grid systems of the campus as well as the City of Philadelphia.

Strategic Goals, a Guiding Vision

Dr. Rodin emphasized half a dozen strategic goals that are the framework for a master plan:

In addition, she gave four elements of a "guiding vision" underlying any plan: to extend the success and appeal of Locust Walk to other parts of the campus; to use the best campus buildings as inspiration for new properties; to create "new places for people" whether for teaching, work and learning or for recreation and leisure; and to "reinvent the University City image" that Penn and its neighbors share.

Enhancement and Expansion

Using the markers of North, South, East and West, Dr. Rodin's updated plan calls for expansion on only two fronts--eastward and southward to the Schuylkill, where property such as the Civic Center is an opportunity for redevelopment. By contrast, toward the west and north--well-populated with both residential and institutional neighbors--the plan calls for enhancement of land use, facilities and amenities, often in community or institutional partnerships.

East Campus: The strategy is to expand the campus boundary ideally to the Schuylkill River through strategic acquisitions; develop an appropriate entrance to campus via Walnut Street ("something more exciting than painting our name on a train track," she quipped); dramatically improve safety and cleanliness; provide athletic fields and expand recreational facilities; and encourage economic development.

South Campus: Rationalizing the use and ownership of University buildings within the medical complex, and seeking control over the present Civic Center property, the University would also seek to build up retail services and amenities needed in a medical complex.

North Campus: Expanding and upgrading residences was first on Dr. Rodin's list, using the Sheraton Hotel as "swing space" during renovations. Opportunities were cited for improving amenities, attracting businesses that provide needed services and working with key neighboring institutions (Drexel, the Science Center and UPHS-Presbyterian Medical Center). A Special Services District for University City was also recommended.

West Campus: Here the revitalization of 40th Street, between Baltimore and Market, topped the list, with the already-announced relocation of Public Safety as a key strategic move. Encouraging new economic development on Market Street and providing incentives for faculty, staff and students to live in neighborhoods just west of campus are among the priorities.

Key Considerations

Seen programmatically rather than geographically, the master plan is founded on three key considerations: Student life (from new or renovated residences to enhanced safety, amenities and recreation); Academic support; and longer-term Institutional interests that would guide acquisition and space use. Here Dr. Rodin's talk ranged from proposing lively new ventures (notably a Sansom Common development) to asking provocative questions on land and space use ("Do the back offices of administraton need to be at the core?").

In discussing academic support, Dr. Rodin answered questions that have been in the air since the Wharton School announced plans to construct a new $100 million home for the MBA program. Schools and departments in the social sciences quad (Social Work's Caster Building, Graduate Education, Stiteler Hall and the Solomon Psychology Labs) are being asked to consider "not spending any more money on buildings that perhaps never should have been built in the first place." Psychology is being asked to determine its physical needs and choice of vicinity in terms of the balance between its two strong thrusts, cognitive sciences and biologically-based neuroscience.

And, she added, the present Book Store site is for the Wharton School--but upgraded retail amenities should remain on the Walnut Street side of the block.

Other land being studied for reuse are stretches of Walnut Street that have been criticized as creating a "brick canyon" that turns Penn's back on the public--notably in the 3400 block. Stouffer Triangle, Superblock and the Graduate Towers are also to be looked at anew in this continuing examination of Penn's future physical development.

(Ed. Note: Dr. Rodin's presentation at Council contained numerous additional details for which space was inadequate in this issue. We hope to follow up on some of these plans shortly.)

To the Four Corners

The single graphic (below) presented at Council on Wednesday summed up the approach Dr. Rodin sketched for Penn's campus master planning.

At its simplest:

East and South: Seek opportunities to expand the campus to the natural boundary of the Schuylkill River, giving elbow room to the medical complex toward the South and to campus recreational needs to the East.

North and West: Not acquisition but enhancement of presently held property is the hallmark of the current plan, which assumes that aside from independently improving its own properties the University will work in partnership with neighbors and government to enhance the entire area economically and in its quality of life.

The semicircle shown at left, stretching from Drexel University to the College of Pharmacy, is not a boundary but a visual device suggesting the concentration of population to be served by improvements in the 40th Street area.--Ed.


Volume 43 Number 13
November 19/26, 1996

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