New Ronald O. Perelman Center looks to the future while preserving the past

For first time, the School of Arts and Sciences’ departments of Political Science and Economics will coexist in the same building.

VIP group photo after cutting the ribbon
Penn President Amy Gutmann (third from right) was joined at the Nov. 8 ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics by (from left to right) special guests Vicki Kennedy and Cindy McCain; Wharton undergraduate and graduate alumnus Ronald O. Perelman; alumna and award-winning journalist Andrea Mitchell; and Chair of the Board of Trustees David L. Cohen.

At a ribbon-cutting celebration on Thursday evening, lights shone bright on the new Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics’ brilliantly restored, limestone Art Deco façade—practically gleaming, thanks to an exterior glazing, and illuminating a pathway into the future for Penn’s political science and economics students.

The Ronald O. Perelman Center, which began construction in December 2015 and is now open at 36th and Walnut streets, marks a multidisciplinary new age for the historic space that was once the 1925-built West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company building. The space serves as an undergraduate teaching and research center that houses the School of Arts and Sciences’ departments of Political Science and Economics.

Perelman Political Science Building at night
The south view of the contemporary expansion of the Ronald O. Perelman Center. (Photo: copyright Adrien Williams, courtesy of KPMB)

“The Perelman Center is all about connections, about aligning the stars of two of our great departments, political science and economics, two of our largest departments and our most popular undergraduate majors,” President Amy Gutmann told a crowd of special guests, gathered outside to commemorate the official opening of the building before attending a dinner event with Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for NBC Andrea Mitchell and 2018-19 Presidential Professor of Practice Jeb Bush. “By bringing together political science and economics, along with the School of Arts and Science’s globally focused research centers, the Perelman Center underscores Penn’s deep dedication to cross-disciplinary research and policy relevance.”

The Perelman Center is all about connections, about aligning the stars of two of our great departments, political science and economics, two of our largest departments and our most popular undergraduate majors. Penn President Amy Gutmann

Gutmann added that the new Ronald O. Perelman Center exemplifies a commitment to “preserving our past while building strongly, and optimistically and, without any doubt, progressively...for the future.”

The 110,000-square-foot restored building will house the Center for the Advanced Study of India, the Christopher H. Browne Center for International Politics, the Center for the Study of Contemporary China, the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, the Penn Institute for Economic Research, and the Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies.

The Ronald O. Perelman Center is made possible thanks to a generous leadership gift from undergraduate and graduate alumnus of the Wharton School, Ronald O. Perelman, who was introduced for remarks at the ceremony by Gutmann.

Ron Perelman speaking at ribbon cutting
Undergraduate and graduate alumnus of the Wharton School Ronald O. Perelman

“When Amy first approached me with this idea, I thought it was fabulous,” explained Perelman. “The world was becoming as one economically, as one politically, and the influence that was being exercised throughout the world, from the EU to Asia to America, I thought we at Penn could become one of the leaders in educating and participating in that phenomenon and educating the leaders of that phenomenon throughout the world.”

Perelman continued on to introduce special guests Cindy McCain and Vicki Kennedy, who attended the ceremony and, echoing Perelman’s own sentiments, stressed in their own remarks a need for cooperation in politics and working together for a common good.

The ceremony, symbolically, overlooked the corner of 36th and Walnut streets, the main entrance of the building that has been reimagined but well-preserved—marrying new and old. The Art Deco style of the entrance is retained by design team KPMB Architects, while new details were added to evoke a contemporary feeling, most prominently conveyed by an abstract geometric composition of glass and aluminum mullions atop a transparent base along street level, with a lineup of tall, vertical windows. As with all University construction projects, the building was designed with sustainability in mind, in this case aiming for LEED Silver certification.

Perelman Political Science Building stairwell and lobby
View of the atrium stair, reception, and undergraduate study/lounge area looking south from the lobby. (Photo: copyright Adrien Williams, courtesy of KPMB)

Inside, the building is contemporary with an open feeling that’s complemented by a terrazzo stair, glass walls that enshroud meeting rooms on the second floor, and windows around the building that attract light. A dark flooring recalls the Art Deco aesthetic of the exterior, meanwhile, as oak paneling that lines center rooms adds warmth to the space. A sterling new 120-person-seating auditorium space on the bottom floor, a forum that fits 72 people, dedicated study spaces, flexible classrooms and student gathering spaces—two of which are for graduate students—are interspersed throughout the building and offer ideal space for dialogue.

These details all collaborate with one another in a way that’s conducive to the big-picture goal of encouraging partnership between areas of study.

VIPs cutting the Perelman building ribbon
Gutmann (center) was joined on stage by (from left to right) Penn Provost Wendell Pritchett, Perelman, Cohen, and School of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven J. Fluharty.

“One of the most important roles of a great university is to encourage open dialogue, the free exchange of ideas, and civil and robust expression of divergent views, on our campus and all around the world,” Gutmann added. “This building will be a place to do just that.”

Homepage photo: At a ribbon-cutting celebration on Thursday evening, lights shone bright on the new Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics, which marks a multidisciplinary new age for the historic space that was once the 1925-built West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company building.