Special collections, welcoming spaces, scenic views at Van Pelt

The sixth floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, which recently reopened after a three-year renovation project, could become one of the most popular campus locations, with updated meeting and study spaces and breathtaking views.

The floor’s design was reconfigured to create the new Special Collections Center, which is now an inviting space with expanded seating and technological upgrades, including a digital media lab. New, tall windows offer magnificent views of campus and downtown Philadelphia.


The Center is home to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the Furness Memorial Shakespeare Library, the Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection, and the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies.

The Special Collections Center was designed to meet the needs of patrons, as libraries across the nation are evolving into cultural and social centers.

“We made more spaces for people, with tables and chairs, to improve the look, feel, and the ambiance of the library, which makes it a much more enjoyable experience to come here,” says H. Carton Rogers, vice provost and director of Penn Libraries.

Administrative offices and storage spaces were moved to the fifth floor to make way for additional individual or group study areas and a multi-purpose event space.

The Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion offers seating for more than 100 people. When the sliding doors are closed, individuals studying in the lounge area won’t be disturbed. When there are larger functions, the doors can be opened to include the lounge seating area.

The David Rittenhouse Orrery, which was formerly located on the first floor, is now displayed inside the Pavilion.

The Center’s south-side windows let in beams of natural light and offer a tree-top view of Locust Walk. The new terrace on the east side of Van Pelt showcases the Center City skyline.

“I think [this project] can be a poster child of how we can think about other buildings of this period on campus, and treat them with some degree of freedom, but with respect and good design intelligence,” says University Architect David Hollenberg.

The Penn community is invited to an open house on Friday, April 19, from 2 to 5 p.m. for tours of the sixth floor space.

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