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An adaptive reuse project wraps up at UPenn

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The Perelman Center’s contemporary addition is meant to complement its art deco neighbor

Courtesy, Jennifer Rizzi, University of Pennsylvania

An adaptive reuse project that brings classrooms, faculty offices, and an outdoor terrace to a 1920s art deco building in University City is wrapping up next month.

The University of Pennsylvania will dedicate the building, now dubbed the Ronald O. Pereleman Center for Political Science and Economics, on November 8 after nearly three years of construction. It will hold offices for faculty and graduate students, an auditorium, classrooms, study rooms, lounges, and an outdoor terrace at the space on 36th and Walnut streets.

The 110,000-square-foot project brings a glossy new addition alongside the original structure, which was erected in 1925 to house the West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company. The original and contemporary buildings sit side by side, with a connection on 36th street and an entrance between them.

The new space is meant to complement the old, according to architects KPMB, and the project does show a stark difference between the two. On one side, the original building features vertical lines and an art deco facade of limestone and granite. On the other, the expansion uses the same vertical lines in their design, but this time the exterior is a combination of glass and steel—a contemporary style and a far cry from the space’s beginnings.

“The integrity of the Art Deco façade is respected and restored, while the expansion features an abstract geometric composition of glass and aluminum mullions atop a transparent base along street level,” KPMB wrote in a statement on the project.

Inside, the spaces are connected as well. A steel and terrazzo stair sits between the two buildings, with access to the first three levels. The original building’s double-height banking hall has also been restored into an atrium. The “forum” —a multi-purpose space that fits 72 people—on the second floor, looking out over the space.

The whole project marks the latest in a 100-year history of the building. The original building was constructed in 1925 at land owned by the university to serve as another office for the West Philadelphia Title and Trust. The nine-story building was designed by firm Davis, Dunlap, & Barney, who studied under notable Philly architect Paul Cret while at UPenn.

Over the century that followed, the building saw several different occupants, and was even the site of a large civil rights protest by activists angry that the building—then, the Girard Bank Building—had no black employees, according to a feature on the building from Hidden City Philadelphia.

Finally, in 2013, a $25 million gift from UPenn alum and billionaire Ron Perelman kicked off the transformation of the space into the Pereleman Center for Political Science and Economics.