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Iconic Buildings, Modern Uses

University Feature

  • Brookings Quadrangle, which hosts Commencement and other events, was originally recommended by landscape architecture firm Olmsted, Olmsted, and Eliot, and then carried forward in the campus plan of Philadelphia architecture firm Cope and Stewardson. (Joe Angeles)

Outdoor Rooms and Spaces

The plans that emerged for the new campus when the university was looking to move from its downtown buildings to the Hilltop (now Danforth) Campus, called for a main building facing east and a series of quadrangles, as recommended by landscape architecture firm Olmsted, Olmsted, and Eliot. Those concepts were reflected in the campus design by Philadelphia architecture firm Cope and Stewardson.

Buford Pickens, the late architectural historian and former dean of architecture, said it was “architectural genius” to base “the plan of spaces and buildings upon the medieval courtyard tradition of Oxford and Cambridge Colleges.”

According to Jamie Kolker, assistant vice chancellor for campus planning and director of capital projects, “This was all based on an English model of quadrangles and an academic, cloistered life of professors and students sharing their experience together in the outdoor rooms and bumping into each other.” He notes, “That’s evolved a lot in 110 years.”

The Cope and Stewardson plan, he says, used very narrow buildings to shape space and create outdoor rooms. He says the power of their plan “was that it used buildings to define space. In its most basic way a building can be in space, like a mansion in a yard, versus a building that defines space, which is exactly what these buildings did.”

As examples he cites:

• McMillan Hall, which creates a three-sided room that opens to Mudd Field

• Brookings Quadrangle, which has all four walls

• Karl Umrath Hall, which creates Bowles Plaza with Mallinckrodt

• Umrath and Graham Chapel, he says, are “sort of two sides of a room”

• The space being referred to as “Cupples Quad,” shaped by Olin Library, Eads Hall, Sever Hall and Cupples II

By contrast, Graham Chapel, Francis Gym and Olin Library are “the three object buildings that are floating in space, but they still work to create relationships with other buildings,” he says.

“One of the most powerful and enduring relationships between object buildings on campus still exists between Francis Gym and Graham Chapel, where the mind and the body talk to each other at ends of the axis that connects them.”

That relationship will be further strengthened with the upcoming renovation of Francis Gymnasium.

“The space bounded by the buildings is as important as the buildings themselves,” Kolker says.


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