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Foster+Partners’ ‘overwhelming’ Penn Patient Pavilion clears Civic Design Review

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The committee had some critiques

The Civic Design Review committee unanimously voted to conclude the design review process for Foster+Partners’ $1.5 billion New Penn Patient Pavilion at the last meeting of the year, but not without warning that the design was relentless and aggressive.

“As a citizen of Philadelphia, I find it overwhelming,” architect Cecil Baker said. “Not that contemporary architecture doesn’t belong at Penn, but I’m worried about all this overhang.”

“I hope I’m wrong,” he added.

The design proposal for the Hospital at University of Pennsylvania’s (HUP) new 500-bed patient center replaces the now-demolished Penn Tower at 1 Convention Avenue. It curves around the Penn Museum, serving as a shiny backdrop, and features multiple pedestrian bridges and a cantilever that runs about 65 feet long.

“We want to bring part of Penn’s pedestrian life on the main campus to the medical campus, which is so car-driven,” Foster+Partners’ Chris West said.

Committee chair Nancy Rogo-Trainer said this rendering made the building look too “slick and relentless.”

The New Penn Patient Pavilion is a 1.25 million-square-foot, 13-story project, which triggered the Civic Design Review. The first two levels will be public space, followed by four floors of operating rooms and seven floors of patient rooms.

The ends of the building, which West referred to as “lanterns,” will serve as family meeting spaces.

Committee chair Nancy Rogo-Trainer added to Baker’s concerns, saying, “I recognize that any large building will be an awkward backdrop to the museum, but it’s going to be a backdrop to a treasure.”

“I hope that the view from the museum is more recessive than aggressive,” than it looks like in the renderings, she added.

West said that they have been working with Penn Museum from the beginning to ensure that the new building will have no further impact than the original Penn Tower, in terms of shadowing over the museum.

The building’s facade will also have more texture and less gold and more bronze-copper hues than what’s expressed in the design proposal, he assured.

“We want it to stand on its own but feel like part of the place,” West said, adding that they are aiming for LEED Silver certification, but have “higher goals than that.”

With the unanimous vote to conclude the design process, the hospital hopes to break ground by the end of this fall and open in 2021.