In its 281-year history, Penn has seen several campus evolutions. From the opening of the first school of medicine in North America to the opening of College Hall in 1871, the first cornerstone of Fisher Fine Arts Library in 1888 to the 2008 opening of the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, the campus continues to embrace new spaces and, with them, new styles of learning, research, and access.
Campus continues its evolution this year with the completion of the Academic Research Building and Tangen Hall, in addition to several new facilities and spaces.
“Tangen Hall’s development was all about innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Ed Datz, executive director of real estate at Penn.
Plans for the 68,000-square-foot building at 40th and Sansom streets began as a collaborative effort between former Wharton Dean Geoff Garrett and Vice Dean of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Karl Ulrich. It has been described by project architect KSS as a “toolbox for the University,” and is a collaboration between the Wharton School, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Stuart Weitzman School of Design.
And “collaboration” is the operative word.
While Tangen Hall’s features are open to all students—undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral—they uniquely support entrepreneurship, with collaborator and maker spaces and programs from Wharton, Penn Engineering, and the Weitzman School all housed in the building. It is a space that, by its open design, encourages development and experimentation, and is located along 40th Street specifically to be in proximity to undergraduate residences.
“If you think about Tangen in conjunction with the Pennovation Center, they are complementary,” Datz adds. “The vision of the project was to create innovative and collaborative spaces.”
Programs housed in Tangen Hall include Venture Lab, the Goergen Entrepreneurial Management Program, Weiss Tech Hub, and the Sol C. Snider Center. Included in the building are a number of features: a “founders’ suite” for student businesses, a summit, a digital studio and labs, a fabrication studio and labs, a design studio, a retail lab, 3D printers, and a food innovation lab—the first on Penn’s campus. Other organizations located in Tangen Hall include Integrated Product Design, which is an interdisciplinary master’s level academic program between the Weitzman School and Penn Engineering, as well as the Jay H. Baker Retail Center, the Harris Family Alternative Investments Program, and the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance.
Taylor Durham, associate director of communications at Venture Lab, explains that the food innovation lab, located on the second floor, is meant for nascent companies to test products.
“We hope that, as the space grows, this will become a sort of a, ‘If you build it, they will come’ type of thing,” Durham says. He adds that the research process for it involved some study of how Drexel University students use their test kitchen. He also pointed to Insomnia Cookies, founded by Penn students in 2003, and more recent startups like Frutero Ice Cream, Chefmark, and Nouri, as an example of how it might be used as a springboard for success in the food and beverage industry—though the possibilities are endless.
Durham emphasizes that the spaces in Tangen Hall are meant for the entire University to use as they develop ideas and want to build on them. The space is designed with glass walls and open areas that provide a degree of transparency and invite curiosity from inside the building and out.
“[At Venture Lab], we’ve broadened our scope tremendously, and it’s one of our future objectives to democratize entrepreneurship,” Durham says. “To be more inclusive, open, and accessible,” and more ethnically and educationally diverse.
“This is a space that is primarily driven by Wharton and Engineering, but is really for everybody,” adds Trang Pham, executive director of Venture Lab. “We want to make sure the rest of the community knows that and is able to come in, and feels comfortable coming in. And it’s not just that we think it’s a benefit to the rest of the community, we think it’s a benefit to Wharton and Engineering students to have more diversity on their team.
“We think in the future there will be so many more stories that are cross-disciplinary.”
Academic Research Building
In addition to Tangen, Wharton also welcomes the Academic Research Building, a 68,400-square-foot building near 37th and Spruce streets. The project began from a need to move an existing electrical substation above ground; in the process, says University Architect Mark Kocent, they realized they could wrap a new building around it and, ultimately, decided to connect it to Steinberg Hall-Dietrich Hall on its south side.
The building contains four floors of academic and research space, including classrooms, group study rooms, a communal first-floor atrium with a two-story “living wall” (featuring plants with a sprinkler system), and Philadelphia’s first turntable loading dock. (This means delivery trucks can now exit the dock without needing to back out.) The Academic Research Building also houses the Statistics Department, Wharton Customer Analytics, and AI for Business.
“We were clear in both designs [for Tangen and the Academic Research Building] that we wanted spaces to be open, infused with natural light, and accessible to students,” says Maria O’Callaghan-Cassidy, senior director of operations at Wharton. “In the Academic Research Building, you can see from the atrium right into group study rooms, where you can observe students collaborating on projects and team presentations. The transparency of activity energizes the space.”
She also pointed to configurable spaces and furniture as a way of promoting a variety of meeting types between students. There is also a rail bar space that Kocent anticipates will be popular among students for studying.
The Academic Research Building project also included a reimagining of Woodland Walk. “We rebuilt all of Woodland Walk from 37th to 36th Street, and made it a fully accessible pathway; as you approach 36th, the original design of [landscape architect] Ian McHarg’s sequence of paved plaza is restored,” Kocent explains.
“The project became a nice combination of updating utilities and supporting infrastructure for campus, as well as site restoration and creating a great footprint for Wharton to do both their academic work and research,” he says.
Other openings around campus
The Pennovation Lab, a new addition to Pennovation Works, began leasing spaces this spring at 3401 Grays Ferry Ave. The building is 65,000 square feet and contains both wet and dry labs; it’s positioned as a graduating space for existing startups. Wet labs are uniquely fit for the life sciences and are, regionally, in short supply.
“Philadelphia is a hot cell and gene center, primarily because of our researchers and people coming out of the Perelman School of Medicine,” says Datz. “This is an ecosystem that has grown significantly and competes with the Harvard and MIT area. As you look at [Philadelphia], it’s going to be another hub.”
The four-story building is largely customizable; how many tenants it has will depend on the needs of those who secure a space. Two licenses for lab spaces are currently executed, one of which is Strella Biotechnology, winner of the President’s Innovation Prize in 2019. The space should see occupants starting in June.
Elsewhere on campus, on the ground floor of College Hall, is the new Penn First Plus office space, supporting first-generation, low-income students. The space formerly used by Penn Admissions spans 2,538 square feet, with places for studying and advising. Kocent notes that a significant piece of masonry was removed during construction, allowing a more welcoming entrance. The glazed vestibule facing Penn Commons lets in sunlight and makes the space easy to spot for students.
Also in College Hall is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Paideia Program at Penn, which consists of new office space for staff.
And, just outside Meyerson Hall is the Stuart Weitzman Plaza, which is now accessible to the Penn community along 34th Street. The space features a series of ash benches that cascade down to the street, dotted with a rare yellow wood tree species that is a nod to trees that were removed when Meyerson Hall was first constructed. Laurie Olin, lead architect on Weitzman Plaza and professor emeritus of landscape architecture at the Weitzman School, included it as a reference to “Save Open Space” protests that took place at the time of the original trees’ removal. Kocent notes that yellow wood leaves were also etched onto the donor plaque that rests outside of Meyerson.
Looking ahead, New College House West will open to students in the fall semester, and the Penn Medicine Pavilion opens later this year, as well. The University is in the design or planning stages for the Vagelos Laboratory for Energy Science and Technology, and the SEAS Data Science Building and a six-year-long Quadrangle renovation and Stouffer College House renovation will begin next summer.
Homepage image: A spiral staircase in the lobby of the Academic Research Building.