Pop quiz: who is the United States Ambassador to Germany? If you said Amy Gutmann, you’re a winner! We bring up the former president of the University of Pennsylvania as her namesake building at 3317-33 Chestnut St. is currently rising in University City. When we last stopped by the site in early 2022 when new renderings dropped, the property was a skinny strip of surface parking… directly next to a parking garage. Hardly the highest and best use for such a well-located piece of land.

A look at the surface parking lot at 3317-33 Chestnut St. from last year
A sample of the future curtain wall was the only sign of action during our last trip

While the replacement of a surface parking lot with a gleaming new data science building is a wonderful upgrade for the property, the construction technique here has us even more excited. Designed by Lake|Flato and KSS Architects, this structure’s mass timber frame sits atop V-shaped steel along the first two floors. Those first two floors will serve academic purposes, with the upper floors focused on cross-disciplinary research. Seeing the building under construction is quite jarring, with the massive timber columns and beams creating a look that we are not used to seeing for buildings of this scale. The warmth of the wood belies its strength, as this timber is actually better suited for handling fires than the steel beams we’re more accustomed to. The building is almost topped off, with a massing that looks just like the renderings.

Amy Gutmann Hall approaches its full height at 34th & Chestnut
A rendering of what's to come
Looking west along Chestnut, the structure starts its facade work
Another rendering from the same spot
Looking east at the future streetscape
A closer look at the marriage of steel and mass timber

This is an extremely encouraging project, and not just because we’re fond of big data and informatics. Being the first mass timber project in the city, we hope that this carbon-friendly approach is utilized more often, as reducing carbon emissions sure seems like a sensible approach as we deal with environmental changes and sweat through one of the hottest summers we can remember. With both Penn and the City having long-term carbon emissions goals, perhaps those working in this building in the future can crunch the numbers further to show just how much benefit mass timber can provide.