For the Record: Towne Building

The Towne Building exemplifies the architectural character of Penn’s large laboratory buildings from the early 1900s.

Constructed in 1906, the “New Engineering Building,” as it was called at the time, was the University’s largest structure.

The five-floor building, located on Smith Walk near 33rd Street, was designed by the Cope and Stewardson architectural firm, which also designed a number of other campus structures, including the John Morgan Building, Leidy Laboratory, and the Veterinary School and Law School buildings.

The Old Penn Weekly Review newspaper reported that architect Emlyn Stewardson presented the building at the formal dedication on Oct. 19, 1906. The 2,500-member guest list included delegates from various schools and scientific societies, including some from international organizations. The president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the president of the Stevens Institute of Technology delivered addresses at the event.

Later renamed the Towne Building in honor of industrialist, Penn trustee, and donor John Henry Towne, the building was a multi-purpose facility. It is currently home to the office of the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the machine shop, the engineering library and computer labs, and administrative offices for the Departments of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics.

The original labs in the building included a foundry, a woodworking shop, and an iron-working shop. One mechanical lab was devoted to projects in high-voltage and railway work. Other labs contained facilities for testing heat transmission through pipes and radiators, and examining the properties of plain or reinforced concrete.

The Towne Building is among the Penn buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district on campus.

For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online.

Towne Building