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Penn’s Eero Saarinen-designed dorm to re-open in August

After an $80 million renovation

The modernist Hill College House dorm by Eero Saarinen features an iconic drawbridge.
Flickr/University of Pennsylvania

Noted Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen’s only Philadelphia-based project, the University of Pennsylvania’s Hill College House modernist dormitory, is on an “aggressive” track to re-open in August 2017 after a $80 million renovation.

Penn’s Anne Papageorge, vice president of Facilities and Real Estate Services, said in an announcement that there is still a lot of work to be done on the dorm, including both exterior and interior renovations. She ticked off a long list of repairs, which include adding central air:

[A]ll new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, restoring more than 400 windows, replacing the interior atrium glass walls with insulated glazing, expanding the dining facility by 50 percent, adding energy efficient LED lighting in the center atrium, and all new furniture throughout.

Hill College House was designed in 1958 by Saarinen, who at that point had already designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. It was a women’s-only dorm, highlighted by Saarinen’s incorporation of a drawbridge to the entrance and spiked roof and fencing surrounding the property.

Eero Saarinen’s Hill College House modernist dormitory under construction. Library of Congress/Melissa Romero

Top: These are photos of Saarinen’s original models for the Hill College House. Bottom: The dormitory under construction in September 2016, not long after the opening of New College House across the green.

Despite its foreboding exterior, the inside of Hill College House featured a large atrium, much of which will be retained in the renovations. Like its new neighbor the New College House next door, the Hill College House’s atrium will now include a variety of community spaces, including a study center, six group study rooms, lounges, two terraces, an exercise room, a project innovation room, and music practice rooms.

Renovations began in the fall of 2016. The architecture and historic preservation firm M+Sa is leading the project, with OLIN working with the original landscape design of Dan Kiley. Specifically, the iconic drawbridge will be rebuilt, and there will be a new path leading to Women’s Walk, the walkway that runs between New College House and Hill College House.

It’s not M+Sa’s first time restoring Saarinen’s work. The firm also conducted a fire-smoke study on the Gateway Arch to ensure that the mid-century modern steel icon was still a safe structure.

Here’s are some of M+Sa’s renderings that offer a preview of the new-and-improved dorm.