Historically, if you'd ask an incoming freshman at Penn where they'd like to live, it was a pretty safe bet that they wouldn't offer up Hill College House as their first choice. There are many reasons for this, including the hilariously small rooms, the dated interiors, and a less central location than, say, the Quad. Still, every year, a "lucky" 500 or so freshmen have gotten the "pleasure" of spending two semesters at Hill House, with very few choosing to spend any subsequent semesters there.
Hill College House, located at 33rd & Walnut, was built in 1960 and designed by Eero Saarinen, the same guy that designed the Saint Louis Arch. The building was initially constructed as a dorm for women, and the spiked metal fence and entrance over a moat ostensibly intended to keep the men outside and the women inside. The living spaces were intentionally made small, and the building included a surfeit of common spaces for the time, as to encourage socialization between students. We're certain the small windows had some kind of architectural purpose too, but from a practical sense they unfortunately create dorm rooms with a less than ideal natural light.
In an effort to improve upon one of their least popular student housing buildings, Penn closed Hill College House after graduation last year and are now about halfway through a major renovation effort. According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, this will include renovations to all the student rooms, new bathrooms, an improved basement dining hall, and the addition of air conditioning. All of the windows are being replaced and the building is being repointed as well. All of this will cost an estimated $80.5M. Wow.
It's worth noting that New College House, which opened this fall and is located directly to the north of Hill, cost about $120M to build. We wouldn't argue that it's superior to Hill from an architectural standpoint, but we have no doubt that living there is a better experience, even when compared to the future renovated version of Hill College House. We wonder, might it might have made more sense for Penn to give up on the outdated Hill College House and simply tear it down and build a new building in its place with similar capacity? While that may have resulted in a better student experience, it would have probably meant a second building that looks similar to New College House. That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but it would be objectively worse than the status quo.
If you look at the first image in this story, you can see how Hill College House was once on an island at the edge of Penn's campus (and as a bonus you can also see the old Walnut Street location for New Deck Tavern). And while it's still true today that Hill is on the northeastern edge of the campus, this isn't as much of a big deal as it once was. With the construction of New College House and the western expansion of Drexel over the last few years, there's a vibrant student presence surrounding Hill College House, with a mix of Penn and Drexel students. Also, there are lots of amenities nearby, including the stores at Chestnut Square, right around the corner. So yeah, the rooms will still be little and the windows will still be small, but student life will be decidedly better at Hill College House when it reopens in the fall. We'll leave it to you to decide whether it was worth the $80.5M investment.