Conserving the nation’s first chartered hospital

The Stuart Weitzman School of Design’s PennPraxis and the Center for Architectural Conservation will examine, assess, and prioritize the conservation of the buildings, grounds, and collections of the Pennsylvania Hospital.

a brick building with white detailing and in front is a green field with a statue surrounded by yellow flowers
The Pine Building of Pennsylvania Hospital is the oldest complex on the Hospital campus and continues to be used for administrative offices and the Archives.

The Stuart Weitzman School of Design’s PennPraxis and The Center for Architectural Conservation (CAC) will develop a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) for the Pennsylvania Hospital, part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. The CMP will consolidate information on the significance of the site and its historical assets and will be a tool for prioritizing future hospital-preservation efforts. 

With project efforts directed by Frank Matero, professor of architecture, chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation (GPHP), and director of the CAC, the CMP will provide a clear and comprehensive history of the hospital’s preservation history, outline recommendations to help ensure consistency in management policies, and provide guidance for how to holistically approach the conservation and use of the nation’s first chartered hospital. Project managers include Kecia Fong, an alumnae of the master’s program in historic preservation and a historic preservation lecturer, and Starr Herr-Cardillo, a CAC research fellow. 

“Conservation Management Plans are a method and a tool for handing on places we collectively value to future generations,” says Matero. “This does not mean freezing places in time but rather managing necessary change carefully so as not to damage what is special. It is based on a very simple process which starts with describing what is there, why it matters, what is happening to it, and the principles by which you will manage it. It then sets out more detailed recommendations for remedial work, maintenance, use, access, and management—the entire ecosystem of a healthy sustainable place with an eye towards protecting and celebrating its historical legacy.” 

Faculty and students from the Historic Preservation program working on the CMP will provide a comprehensive, digitized inventory of all relevant documentation as well as detailed policies, priorities, and recommendations for preservation. The work will rely on the expertise of Penn faculty from the renowned program while also providing an opportunity for students to conduct on-site research towards understanding the needs of the historic buildings, grounds, and collections. 

an ornate library with wooden shelves covering the walls
The Historic Medical Library, located in the Pennsylvania Hospital Pine building, was designated the “largest and most important” medical library nationwide by the American Medical Association in 1847 (Image: Penn Medicine)

Founded in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Bond, Pennsylvania Hospital is one of Philadelphia’s most important historic sites, including the Pine Building, a National Historic Landmark; numerous outbuildings; the grounds and gardens; and an extensive collection of historical artifacts, including art and medical tools. 

The hospital has been continuously used for more than 260 years. With its blend of historic and modern, the campus represents a continuum of medical history where historic and modern facilities are integrated in one place. As one example, patients are cared for in state-of-the-art facilities while new medical residents tour the oldest-existing surgical amphitheater.

The project will commence with an information-gathering phase starting this spring. Graduate students and faculty will meet with hospital officials and stakeholders to better understand the values, goals, and visions they hold for the hospital and its grounds into the future. Research into historic documents, photographs, and accounts also provides insight and a foundational understanding of the site. Field work and physical assessment of the buildings and historic landscape will be conducted in the summer and information will be analyzed and synthesized to provide guidance for future conservation efforts. 

a circular room with a lamp and a table in the center
The surgical amphitheater in Pennsylvania Hospital, built in 1804, is the oldest existing amphitheater in the United States (Image: Pennsylvania Hospital)

Part of the CMP will also include evaluating previous conservation efforts and plans for the outdoor spaces. Because the grounds and gardens were originally conceived using a holistic approach to health, which envisioned the landscape as a place for healing and recovery, the CMP will also identify significant garden elements and provide recommendations on how the hospital can consider the surrounding landscape, which remains free and open to the community. 

Fong says that there’s a lot of excitement around working at a Philadelphia location of local, national, and global significance “The hospital is in our own backyard and is a significant figure in Philadelphia and medical history,” she says. 

“It’s fun to work at a place that is still a living site, getting to talk to the people involved. It’s like being a preservation therapist,” says Herr-Cardillo. “You get to know the site, why stakeholders care about it, and it feels relevant in real time.”

Theresa Larivee, chief executive officer of Pennsylvania Hospital, sees this CMP as a key first step in preserving the institution’s historical significance and one that leverages knowledge from across Philadelphia and the Penn community, in particular. She also points to how closely residency work in medicine aligns with residency in historical preservation and how people from both fields have a role to play in this project. 

“We are fortunate to have this expertise not only in our city, but in our University as well,” says Larivee. “This investment will secure the lasting legacy of the historical holdings of Pennsylvania Hospital.” Larivee also notes that the recently formed First Hospital Committee of Pennsylvania Hospital, which is focused on historic preservation, fully endorsed this investment.

“Every day, Weitzman faculty and alumni are working to protect cultural heritage around the world, but we’re especially proud to team up with our neighbors and colleagues right here in Philadelphia,” says Fritz Steiner, dean and Paley Professor at the Weitzman School.

Frank Matero is the chair of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania

Kecia Fong is a lecturer in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania

Starr Herr-Cardillo is a research fellow in the Center for Architectural Conservation in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania

Theresa Larivee is the chief executive officer of Pennsylvania Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Fritz Steiner is dean and Paley Professor of the Stuart Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania