We’ve always been a little confused by the surface parking lot at the northeast corner of 34th & Chestnut. That’s not to say that we don’t understand why a parking lot would exist at this corner- with a location that’s incredibly convenient to both Penn and Drexel, it certainly makes sense. What’s always struck us as odd is that the surface parking lot sits immediately next door to the 34 Chestnut parking garage, which has room for hundreds of cars over its seven or eight floors. Plus, Penn owns the parking garage and the surface parking lot… so why would they use their property in this fashion?
Here’s a little history, since this property obviously wasn’t always used for parking. There once was a collection of apartment buildings on this site, and we believe Penn acquired all of them in the 1960s or 1970s via eminent domain, in the middle of a dramatic (and problematic) expansion of the university’s land holdings. By the late 1970s, the buildings on the site were razed and a large surface parking lot took their place. In 1988, Penn built the parking garage we see today, but for whatever reason the design decision was made to set it way back from Chestnut Street, leaving the leftover section of surface parking lot that’s still in active use. But that’s not going to be the case for much longer.
As Penn is wont to do, they will soon be squeezing utility out of this underused tract of land, with plans for a brightly named Data Science Building. This project, which will be administered by the Engineering School, will “serve as a hub for cross-disciplinary collaborations that harness research and data across Penn’s 12 schools and numerous academic centers.” With “active learning classrooms, collaborative spaces for student projects, and a data science hub for the entire Penn community,” the building will make “the tools and concepts of data analysis more accessible to the entire Penn community.” We don’t quite know what all this means, but it sure sounds important.
It’s tough to figure out exactly what the new building will look like from the rendering above, but it seems like a safe bet that it will take a decidedly contemporary approach. This would be a departure from most of the buildings on Penn’s campus, and also from projects that have appeared at this intersection of late, like the circa-2008 Domus Apartments on the northwest corner and the still newish New College House (now known as Lauder) on the southeast corner. Though the building is still a ways away and doesn’t even have an estimated date of completion (or a starting date for that matter), it’s a sure thing that it will happen, given that the university has already received a gift which will cover about a third of the project cost. And when it finally does move forward, you certainly won’t see us shedding any tears at the loss of another surface parking lot. Honestly, we don’t care if they just use the building to store old ENIAC punch cards, it’ll still be a welcome upgrade.