Penn Building Yet Another New College House

The University of Pennsylvania wants to increase its dormitory offerings, and a green space at the edge of campus will fall victim to this aspiration. The southeast corner of 40th & Walnut is home to a branch of the Free Library, and a field wraps around the building with frontage on Walnut and Locust Streets. This field definitely gets some use, at least according to some commenters on a Daily Pennsylvanian story, but it seems that students will soon need to find a new spot to toss a football and/or frisbee.

Current view on Walnut Street
Current view on 40th Street

Penn is calling this project New College House West, not to be confused with New College House, the dorm at 33rd & Chestnut that opened in 2016. The new dorm will rise 13 stories on Walnut Street, to the same height as the Radian building across the street. On the southern side, there will be two smaller wings that surround an open courtyard space, creating a footprint like an upside-down ‘U.’ The building will contain 450 beds for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, with suites containing between 2 and 6 bedrooms. Penn has hired Bohlin Cywinski Jackson as the architects for the project, the same firm that did the design for for the eastern version of New College House. Here are some renderings, to give you an idea of what’s to come:

Overhead view
Future view from 40th & Locust
Future view from Locust Walk
Some green space will be maintained in the middle of the project

It’s unfortunate that this building has to come at the expense of open space on Penn’s campus, something that’s in rather short supply. Considering the numerous demolitions that have occurred in West Philadelphia in recent years though, we’re kind of pleased that this won’t be the case here. It’s worth noting, there were once some wonderful buildings here, almost all of which were lost in the 1960s when the City handed over four square blocks to Penn, allowing for the creation of the Superblock. So in a sense, this property has been awaiting redevelopment for half a century, and now it’s finally happening.

Construction on the project will begin in the spring, with completion expected in the fall of 2021. The cost for the project made us fall out of our chair, checking in at $163M. For reference, the recent renovation of Hill House cost $80.5M and the other New College House cost $125M. As you’ve probably guessed, these dorms aren’t called ‘New’ because of a donor named New, but because Penn hasn’t been able to find a lead donor for either project. With the second New College House now approved, we can safely assume that Penn’s endowment is doing quite well, thank you very much.