Healthy Building, Healthy Landscape, Healthy Student, Part II
A three-part series on architecture that supports student wellbeing at the University of Pennsylvania
Penn’s newest purpose-built college house promotes whole-student wellbeing in myriad ways, integrating flexible spaces that support community-building, balancing visual transparency with secure access, and helping residents find their place on campus and in the city.
Variety for Diverse Needs
After working with Penn on the design of Lauder College House, our team drew upon student input and lessons learned in the design process, as well as an understanding of evolving needs. Students wanted to be more self-directed and adapt spaces for their use — whether seeking a place to study solo while maintaining connection to others, or engaging in collaborative group work.
As the Center for Active Design notes in its Building Healthy Places Toolkit, “flexible environments and programming and policies that enhance opportunities for social engagement” can offer a variety of health benefits. Our team worked with the University to create variety between spaces for rigorous academic and extracurricular pursuits, structured events, and serendipitous gatherings, while developing a clear language around environments for different uses.
New College House’s ground-floor project room (above) is outfitted with shared screens, whiteboards, and movable furniture for residents to plug in in a variety of ways, whether individually or in groups. Upstairs, double-height Club Rooms equipped with kitchens, shared dining space, and lounge furniture, provide an intermediate scale between ground floor and residential common rooms and suites designed for small groups. Students and faculty have praised this variety, where everyone can find a place to suit personality or mood.
“New College House was built with community at the center. The way the residence is built, I’m excited to see all that hard work pay off with our residents and see how they build community with one another.”
— Benjamin Glass, New College House Graduate Resident Assistant
Connections to Nature
While nature’s well-documented benefits on mental and physical well-being often focus on immersion in the outdoors, building design plays an important role in maintaining connection. As Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, noted in an article for the American Psychological Association, “the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.”
In addition to plentiful green space, new tree plantings, and visible sustainability strategies, our team worked to help students feel connected to their surroundings throughout New College House. Focused short and long views provide visual access to nature and help students place themselves within a broader campus and urban context. Floor-to-ceiling glass on ground-floor gathering areas provides visual connection outward to S. 40th and Walnut streets, as well as onto the central lawn and courtyard. Wall-to-wall windows in student bedrooms offer views of the lawn or tree canopies, while upper floors can look down onto the green roofs on each residential wing, as well as nearby Philadelphia neighborhoods.
Safety & Security
Navigating the need for security while maintaining a sense of openness to the city were important design drivers. As Lisa Lewis, Faculty Director Penn’s College Houses and Academic Services, noted in an article for Penn Today, “New College House [is] close to West Philly neighbors, and so I think as the University leadership was thinking about what this new house could bring, it wasn’t just about a space for bodies, but about how to make it vibrant. And connected not just to the Penn campus, but also to West Philly more broadly. It’s an open door, and it’s being good neighbors.”
Integrated public seating, plantings, and views into the ground-floor café along S. 40th Street contribute to public realm vibrancy, while sheltered entries beside the Walnut Street Library and the lawn provide welcoming, secure gateways into the building. New College House’s ground floor is organized to provide a natural circulation route from entry gathering to semi-public spaces like the multipurpose room and café, while preserving secure access for residents to elevators and other collaborative spaces. A secure courtyard behind the glass-enclosed porch responds to the desire for protected outdoor space while maintaining views across the lawn.
The final post in our series will explore a unique approach to dining at New College House.