New Design for Penn's Commencement 2001

 Above is the architect's rendering of the view of the new stage design from the upper east stands of Franklin Field, with the graduates seated on the field in the foreground.

This year, students, faculty and guests at the University of Pennsylvania will participate in a Commencement that is significantly different from previous years. The ceremony has been redesigned in form and in orientation to use the space of Franklin Field for a more engaging event. Most evident will be a new stage in a new position at the center of the Field, with the skyline of the University and West Philadelphia as its backdrop.

For the first time, all of the Franklin Field Commencement ceremonies will be held on the same stage--designed to be re-usable and universal in its function. The ceremony will focus on the stage, which is large in scale with a unique fabric umbrella canopy and large screen video monitors. The procession will move from the campus through the stage and around the Field; this flow is intended to represent a passage of promise, as the University's graduates symbolically take their places in the world. The goal of the new design and production is to add richness to the ceremony, making the day more meaningful and memorable for everyone.

The project began in Spring 2000 with the intent to reconsider the format of Commencement for 2001, to better celebrate the excellence of the University.

The Project Team identified four objectives:

1) Optimize the Possibilities of Franklin Field as a Venue

  • Franklin Field is a natural setting for University events­one that honors the tradition of Penn and its presence in Philadelphia.
  • As in previous years, the Commencement Procession will wind along Locust Walk and Smith Walk to enter Franklin Field from the west side.
  • The event is oriented to be seen with the skyline of the University and West Philadelphia as a backdrop.
  • Nearly 20,000 anticipated guests can be seated on the north, south, and east stands, like an arena, so their energy and enthusiasm will become part of the event.
  • Guest access is improved by gaining entrance at both the north and south sides of the Field.

2) Realize Long-Term Economies for the University

  • The set is designed and oriented so that it can be used both by the University for Commencement, as well as by the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering, and the Wharton School for their individual ceremonies. This avoids the need for redundant sets, audio/visual production systems, and chair arrangement as in previous years.

3) Design the Event to be Memorable and Meaningful

  • The set represents the University as an institution­the physical presence of the landscape and the buildings, as well as the place of ideas and traditions.
  • The set has two components, designed to feature two essential aspects of the ceremony: celebration and achievement. These are the Scene, which presents a graphic backdrop to the event, and the Stage, where the efforts of the University community are recognized.
  • There is a dramatic movement of the Commencement Procession through the portal created by the Scene, and around the Field to the participants' respective places in the ceremony. This flow is intended to represent a passage of promise, as the University's graduates symbolically take their places in the world.

4) Create a Focus for the Ceremony

  • Located at the 30 yard line, the set subdivides the space of Franklin Field into a size more suitable for the scale of the event.
  • Two large screen video monitors are integrated into the design of the set, as are audio and lighting production technologies.
  • The Scene is made from standard construction scaffolding, creating a large scale and flexible structure for graphics and the video monitors. The two freestanding frames are 65' wide by 25'.
  • The stage canopy is a uniquely-shaped fabric umbrella that defines the participants, but does not enclose them. It is supported by a bundle of ten radiating frames that are cantilevered over the stage.

The Penn participants on the Team included representatives from the Office of the President, Office of Facilities Services and Office of the Secretary of the University. They consulted with the designers, MGA Partners, a Philadelphia-based architectural firm recognized for innovative projects and awards, most recently the addition and renovation to the Annenberg School for Communication.

--Leslie Laird Kruhly, Secretary of the University

Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 31, April 24, 2001