Speaking Out

Sansom Common: Backwards?

As a concerned member of the University community, and as someone with extensive knowledge of architecture and urban planning, I feel compelled to point out potentially fatal flaws in the design plan for Sansom Common:

The Site Plan Is Backwards!

The main entrance, planned by Elkus/Manfredi Architects for Sansom Street, fails to consider how Philadelphia's traffic patterns apply to Penn. Visitors arrive primarily via the Walnut and South Street bridges directly from the Schuykill Expressway and downtown Philadelphia. The majority of incoming traffic flow will be passing by the Walnut Street side of Sansom Common, a fact which the present design team either overlooked or ignored. The resulting "looping around" by motorists will cause even more traffic problems--not to mention hazards--along the busy, congested, pedestrian-filled Walnut Street strip.

The Plan Threatens Old Green Space!

The "not-as-yet-named" street ( Almanac, June 17) connecting Sansom and Chestnut will require the removal of several mature locust, pine, and ginkgo trees that currently stand between Grad Towers A and B. Cutting these trees down for the sake of cars will insult founding father William Penn's philosophy of the Greene Countrie Towne, and Benjamin Franklin's conception of the university campus.

(This problem would be avoided simply by reversing the proposed site plan's orientation.)

These observations are reinforced by the principles of Feng-Sui, the Chinese method of planning and design. Feng-Sui reveals yet another flaw in the "backwards" design--the "not-as-yet-named" street will demand the demolition of the walkway and parking deck that connects Grad Towers A and B. The decision to cut one tower off from the other--literally, in this case--will destroy the original intentions of its award-winning Modernist architects, Richard and Dion Neutra, and create design disharmony.

(This problem would be avoided simply by reversing the proposed site plan's orientation.)

Lot 13 Would Have Made an Optimum Site for an Academic Building!

I must join the chorus on this point. Sansom Common has not one square foot of space allocated for educational purposes. An eighteen-story Sheraton hotel is located 100 feet from the proposed Inn at Penn site. A retail mall and food court also exists 100 feet from the proposed Sansom Common site. The word "redundant" rings in the ears.

The facts observed, and added to the design concerns listed previously, it seems probable that the present incarnation of Sansom Common will be viewed in the long term as a mistake, as well as a misappropriation of prime Penn real estate. Future Penn generations will hopefully convert the structure to a better, educational purpose, one that does not threaten the existence of green space planted by earlier generations of the University of Pennsylvania community.

-- Ron P. Swegman,
Cataloguer of Monographs, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

Response to Mr. Swegman

Mr. Swegman raises a number of issues regarding the project's goals and design on which I would like to comment.

Sansom Common, the mixed-use bookstore, inn and retail project at Lot 13, has been conceived, planned and designed in response to the University Agenda for Excellence to improve the quality of life in University City, our neighborhood. Pursuit of a quality-of-life-agenda is a complex and broad charge and Sansom Common will advance several of its most crucial elements.

First, in planning Sansom Common we sought to create a place for late-night, vibrant activity that would provide a destination location for the University and the broader community. In terms of planning, the master plan provides for opportunity for a critical mass of varied commercial and cultural activity to develop over time in the area from 34th to 38th Street, from Walnut to Chestnut, with Sansom Street, building on the success and feel of the fabric between 36th and 34th, as its heart. Sansom Common will be a place, not just a project.

Second, the uses at Sansom Common will complement University life by providing retail and civic spaces that are unique, attractive places, shaped by the institution's academic and intellectual spirit. The retail at Sansom Common will not be "mall" retail but unique, destination-character uses that are attracted by this spirit and thrive in it. Additionally, the project will provide many large and small civic space experiences: A large and accessible landscaped plaza along 36th in addition to many landscaped sidewalk places for strollers to linger in and enjoy.

Finally, the design has been crafted by a team of first-rate design and operating professionals who are passionate about both academic and urban design and efficient, functional, well- performing hotels, retail spaces. Detailed issues--vehicular access, building systems and so forth--are fundamental to success and we have a team in command of these details.

Next summer, the first phase of Sansom Common will open and the making of a terrific new place will have begun.

-- Tom Lussenhop,
Executive Assistant for Project Development


Volume 44 Number 1
July 15, 1997

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