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Proposed Penn dorm designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson takes step forward

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The updated design was presented at a CDR meeting this week

New College House West, Penn’s $163 million dormitory, will reach Locust Walk.
Rendering by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

A new design for a proposed $163 million college house on Penn’s campus aims to—among other things—increase the building’s transparency and symbolically embrace the library next door.

Representatives from Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the architecture firm behind the proposed dorm, presented the updated design at a Civic Design Review (CDR) meeting this week. CDR members said during the meeting that it was the last chance they would have to give the firm feedback on their design.

With the proposal, the firm envisions a 250,000-square-foot building, which would sit on what is now green space, on the corner of 40th and Walnut streets. It would house 450 students, four faculty apartments, a coffee bar and a multipurpose room. The north part of the building would wrap around a courtyard, while the south section would stretch alongside a separate green space, according to the proposal.

Since the building’s design was first announced in November, the firm has received some feedback from the CDR, in part about issues of transparency along the building’s 40th Street facade. Additionally, some CDR members voiced wishes that the building would better embrace the century-old West Philly branch of the Free Library, which sits on the same corner.

To respond to CDR comments, the firm said it’s opened up part of the building’s first level along 40th Street, in order to, “provide a more open view and pedestrian access to the green beyond,” according to the proposal. They’ve also revised an entryway on the same street, creating a better connection between the building and the neighboring library.

Though the firm addressed many of the CDR’s questions about the building’s design, some community members were still wary during the meeting this week.

“They’re proposing to build property on open space,” Sheila Armstrong, a member of the activist and interfaith group, POWER, said at the meeting. Armstrong argued that temperatures in the city are rising every year and Philly needs all the open space it can get.

“It’s been proven that we have a heat problem in Philly,” Armstrong said, adding, “Was an environmental study done?”

The firm answered Armstrong’s concerns, saying that, between the courtyard and the green at the south section of the building, the project still features a fair amount of open space.

The CDR didn’t make a decision this week on whether to recommend the proposed design.