Speaking Out

Build More than Warehouses?

As College Hall and Logan Hall emerge from the restoration scaffolding that for so long obscured their attractive facades, I'm prompted to pose some rhetorical questions.

What qualities are shared by those two venerable late Victorian structures that justify costly restoration? Admittedly, tradition and history played a role in the decision to preserve these handsome relics of a more innocent age. Were we to demolish them and build anew would Penn's recent accomplishments in modern architecture guarantee an equally distinguished physical presence? The overriding criteria observed in the design of many of our modern buildings have been function and cost, with aesthetics running a very poor third place. There are, of course, a few exceptions. Let us count them--Furness Library, Museum of Anthropology and Archeology, Irvine Auditorium, Law School, and finally Louis Kahn's Richards Lab.

But other than these few, a succession of anonymous buildings, answering to the rubric of modern architecture, have dotted the campus. Recent remarks by President Rodin have even identified some of them as fit candidates for demolition.

It is a popularly held belief that the buildings created for academia should appear to be more than warehouses of education. Is aesthetically creative planning too much to demand from those who plan Penn's future campus needs? Are beauty and inspirational design incompatible with function?

These questions are being addressed elsewhere successfully. To celebrate the completion of a handsome new Student Union building on its campus, the University of Cincinnati recently convened a symposium--the subject: "Creative Academic Design," for which a panel of distinguished American architects were the discussants.

I would like to have listened in. Perhaps I shall write Cincinnati for a transcript of the proceedings.

-- Maurice S. Burrison, Director, Faculty Club Art Gallery

On Hold: A letter concerning implementation of IRS and INS regulations is being held for response and is scheduled for publication on December 10. -- Ed.


Volume 43 Number 14
December 3, 1996

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