University of Pennsylvania's glamour Architects
The University of Pennsylvania has been going out of town lately to hire some big name architects. The latest coup is Fumihiko Maki, the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect. He will design an addition (pictured here) to the Annenberg School for Communication. This little glass building - four stories, 40,000 square feet - will house the Annenberg Public Policy Center, created, at least partly, to provide luxury digs for Penn's prominent political soothsayer, Kathleen Hall Jamieson. The addition, which will sit on the footprint of the former Hillel house, includes an auditorium built to specs provided by the folks who run the quadrennial presidential debates. If Penn gets the building done in time for the 2008 elections, Philadelphia may be able to bask in the national limelight, at least for a few nights.
Meanwhile, the University Museum has also started to think big. London's rising architecture star, David Chipperfield, is about to begin work on a master plan for the grandmother's attic of a museum. The University Museum, which was conceived in 1886 by Wilson Eyre as a sprawling Tuscan hill town, features some charming Arts & Craft details and fabulous domed spaces by Rafael Gustavino's tile company, but it is indeed a daunting mess for visitors trying to navigate through its halls. A Romaldo Giurgola wing in the '70s helped only slightly. If Chipperfield, who is working with Philadelphia's Atkin Olshin Lawson-Bell, can bring order to the place, more power to him.
Chipperfield is becoming one of the go-to museum architects. He won high marks for the Figge Art Museum on Davenport, Iowa's Mississippi waterfront, particularly for helping give that forlorn city a renewed sense of place. He was also hired recently to put an addition on the St. Louis Art Museum. Interestingly, no budget has been set for the Penn project.
But hiring a big name architect hardly guarantees a good result. Rafael Vinoly, who gave Philadelphia the impressively-conceived, but poorly-executed Kimmel Center, has crept back into town to design a $232 million Center for Advanced Medicine at Penn, on the former site of the Civic Center. Vinoly must have been confused about the location, however, because the building looks like something you'd find in the Great Valley Corporate Center.
Not to be outdone, Robert Stern has done even worse with his McNeil Center for Early American Studies at 34th and Walnut Streets. Designing a faux Georgian brick box is bad enough, but isn't Stern embarrassed to use those cheap white window frames when the frat house next door has real limestone lintels?