Penn’s Building Blocks

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Why bricks-and-mortar matter.

By Amy Gutmann

Penn alumnus, long-time faculty member, and historian Edward Potts Cheyney C1883 W1884 expressed it well in his History of the University of Pennsylvania: 1740-1940:

“[N]either teaching, study, nor research in these modern times can be carried on without buildings, library, laboratories and equipment. The teacher is not enough … In all modern educational progress, the material and the intellectual have advanced hand in hand. Those masterly achievements by great scholars in the early stages of acquiring knowledge in any field … have also awakened speculation as to what these scholars might have accomplished if they could have been aided by modern devices. Certainly, (modern) buildings … have not only been an accompaniment but a condition of all advanced study.” (Emphases mine.)

Penn’s most basic building blocks for success haven’t changed in more than a century:

First, enroll talented students who carry sparks of genius, creativity, and leadership.

Second, hire great teacher-scholars who will fan those sparks by driving the creation and transmission of knowledge.

Third, furnish necessary tools and iconic venues, such as the Penn Museum, the John Morgan Building and Leidy Laboratory, Houston Hall, Franklin Field, and the Quad—all built around the turn of the 20th century—that inspire and enable generations of faculty, students, and staff to flourish inside the classroom and out.

Committed to achieving eminence and utterly driven to meet the needs of our complex times, we at Penn also have recast the building blocks: We have strengthened financial aid to make Penn more affordable to talented students from all backgrounds—because we seek to educate the best and brightest future leaders for a diverse world. We have recruited more of the very best teacher-scholars who embrace the integration of knowledge across all boundaries—because the challenges that will confront us in the coming century cannot be solved, let alone addressed, by any one discipline.

And the buildings and venues that we will create through our Making History campaign will beautify our campus, energize our Penn community, and extend the reach of our intellectual and healing powers beyond our boldest aspirations.

New buildings and renovations will magnify the impact of our teaching and research exponentially. Extraordinarily gifted and dedicated professors and students are flourishing at Penn.

Some are making—and studying—great music, which will be housed in a magnificently renovated home for the Music Department on 34th Street.

Some are blazing trails in technology-intensive and consummately interdisciplinary fields, such as nanoscience and neurobehavioral sciences. Penn psychologists and biologists are mapping the links between genes and behavior and unlocking the myriad mysteries of the brain. Our team of nanoscale researchers in materials science, chemistry, physics, molecular biology, and other fields are developing a broad array of devices that could revolutionize information processing, communications, and the diagnosis and treatment of disease. (One graduating senior double majoring in math and physics—Sujit Datta C’08 G’08—developed a carbon nanotube electrical device for detecting and binding viral proteins.)

South of Spruce Street, Penn physicians, nurses, and biomedical researchers are using gene therapy to restore vision to blind patients and pioneering new treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.

Imagine the impact of new, state-of-the-art facilities for nanoscience, the brain sciences, and medicine:

  • The 80,000-square-foot Krishna P. Singh Nanotechnology Center will feature clean rooms for the fabrication of nanoscale devices and ample room for faculty and students from engineering, arts and sciences, and medicine and Wharton to catch and ride the wave of the nanotech revolution.
  • A new neural and behavioral sciences building, which will be located next to the Carolyn Lynch Laboratory in the heart of our life-sciences research complex, will integrate the faculties of psychology, biology and behavioral sciences, along with undergraduates from the biological basis of behavior program. Harnessing all that creative and intellectual energy under one roof will increase our understanding of human consciousness and brain function in ways that will change forever the way we view ourselves and also usher in a new era of understanding mental health.
  • With the completion of a billion-dollar biomedical complex on the site of the old Civic Center by 2010, Penn will secure its future as a world leader in bench-to-bedside medicine.

As you read these words, the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine is opening its doors, offering the very best outpatient care for cancer, cardiovascular disease and other serious health conditions. Starting next year, the Perelman Center will be joined by the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, which will be the only cancer treatment facility in the world to fully integrate conventional radiology treatment with the precision of proton-beam therapy, thereby minimizing damage to healthy tissue and surrounding organs. And by physically linking these two clinical centers to the eight-story, 400,000-square-foot Anne and Jerome Fisher Translational Research Center, Penn Medicine will encourage our clinicians and investigators to collaborate on developing the next generation of life-saving therapies and drugs.

Everything we build and renovate through our Making History campaign will enrich Penn’s distinct character and identity in three ways:

  • By creating beautiful, dramatic buildings and spaces that indelibly color the private memories and shared experiences of every Pennsylvanian (as the Quad and Locust Walk have done);
  • By designing welcoming places that forge stronger bonds of community across the campus; and
  • By infusing older spaces with new life and purpose.

The new College House that we plan to build on Hill Square not only will meet the growing demand for more on-campus living options, it will also be the first student residence customized to our College House vision of a 24/7 learning community that bonds students with faculty outside the classroom and cultivates our students’ leadership potential. Featuring great meeting spaces and other wonderful amenities, this College House will be the centerpiece of a new Quad, thereby transforming Hill Square into a vibrant gathering place for the Penn community.

Our plans for the Arts, Research, and Culture House (ARCH) in the former Christian Association building at 36th and Locust Walk follow the same principles. By renovating this aging building’s classroom, performance, meeting, and administrative spaces (and by modernizing its technology infrastructure), we will make this hub a powerful magnet for students who are passionate about arts and culture while creating new venues for serendipitous gatherings.

To meet our most immediate needs for athletics and recreation, we soon will begin converting the northern arcade of Franklin Field to include a weight room for our student-athletes as well as a gleaming new fitness center to complement the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center. Then, we will landscape over the parking lot and remove the tennis courts in front of the Palestra to create a second College Green, an idyllic spot for all kinds of gatherings.

This new green will become the gateway to the beautiful, 24-acre Penn Park near the banks of the Schuylkill River. Featuring a softball stadium, artificial turf playing fields, a new 12-court tennis center, and open recreational spaces, Penn Park will transform today’s unsightly parking lots into a welcoming place buzzing with activity day and night.

Toni Morrison has observed that “the spirit of the place is animated by a reverence for the past that is forever mitigated by the present.” Penn’s buildings and spaces express the spirit of our extended Penn family: Distinguished. Dynamic. Friendly. Determined to make the greatest possible difference.

Our accomplished faculty and talented students will benefit from all the new buildings and spaces I have described. At the same time, we would not be able to build these great facilities—or assemble our faculty or attract top students—without the vision of our alumni.

By supporting our Making History campaign in any way you can, you are doing more than investing in a building, scholarship, program, or endowed chair. You are also placing your faith in Penn’s distinctive mission to integrate knowledge for the betterment of humankind. You are, as emeritus trustee Jerome Fisher W’53 has said, “investing in the future of humankind itself.” What can be more visionary than that?

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