Shoemaker Green is a 2.75-acre site located immediately east of 33rd Street between Walnut and Spruce Streets. The project transformed an existing site with aging tennis courts, narrow pathways, and obstructed views of a historic War Memorial into a cherished public amenity for West Philadelphia. The design draws on the character of Penn’s College Green to create a familiar feel while seamlessly integrating adjacent building entrances, pathways, curbs, and steps across a steeply sloping site. The completed green is a vital component of the University of Pennsylvania’s primary east-west pedestrian system, connecting the central campus to the athletics precinct, and serving as the focal point of Penn’s eastward expansion. The site is bordered by the University’s most iconic athletic facilities, the Palestra Fieldhouse and Franklin Field, and serves as the “front yard” to these historic structures. The project sets a benchmark for sustainable campus design, earning two-stars from the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES™).
The green is organized around a central, semicircular lawn and a large rain garden, bordered by precisely-detailed stone retaining walls and elegantly-graded pathways. The green integrates with and extends the existing campus circulation system by utilizing the University’s landscape standard materials and treatments, but with a modern sensibility. Seating is provided by large, multi-leveled granite seat walls, welcoming visitors with comfortable Black Locust wood insets. Café tables and chairs, as well as free-standing benches typical of the Penn campus, offer flexible gathering spaces throughout the site. High-efficiency lighting provides safety at night, while heightening the sense of place by beautifully illuminating the historic architecture.
The design of Shoemaker Green began with an in-depth site assessment to methodically review and understand the space’s history, context, ecological structure, and functional capacity. The design was sensitive to the needs and requirements of site users, born of a long appreciation of the nature of Penn’s population and their needs and preferences over the hours and seasons that the green would be occupied. A diverse stakeholder group, including representatives from within the University, Philadelphia agencies, and the design community, refined the final design through a rigorous design review process.
Shoemaker Green caters to a program of mainly passive recreation, but the site can adapt to accommodate events and activities at multiple scales. This park has met the demand for new open space in the historic athletics precinct to host a myriad of uses, many of which had not previously existed on campus. The green now graciously supports a wide range of different-sized events, including large, key campus moments such as graduation and convocation, international events like the Penn Relays, and new programming such as outdoor classrooms, movie nights, concerts, and fairs.
Shoemaker Green provides a transition from the historic fabric at the core of campus to the more contemporary new open space developments of the PennConnects Master Plan along the Schuylkill River. The green continues the Locust Walk/Smith Walk corridor, referencing landscape elements of Penn’s historic College Green while introducing new design elements that reflect the importance of sustainability and ecologically sensitive landscape design.
Shoemaker Green has created a functional landscape that provides eco-system services in addition to satisfying the programmatic requirements set forth by the University. The site functions much like a kidney capturing ninety-five percent of the site’s rainwater through an integrated landscape system that includes the conveyance, filtering, and storage of stormwater for reuse as irrigation. Additional water is provided from roof runoff and air conditioning condensate from the adjacent buildings.
The design of Shoemaker Green stems from a systems-based thinking that integrates natural systems (soils, plants, insects, birds and human beings) with man-made systems (building components and infrastructure) to function as a whole. The design has a two-pronged approach to manage the site’s stormwater. The first strategy is to convey stormwater runoff to a large, two-tiered rain garden that contains designed soils and native plant species to manage, filter, store, and transpire a significant amount of stormwater. A second approach is to collect stormwater runoff from the site, as well as runoff from the roof and condensate from adjacent buildings, and release the water into the soil under the main green. This water is cleaned while percolating through the designed soils as it makes its way to a large storage bed several feet below the green. A large portion of the existing tennis courts were left in-place under the main green to support a recycled aggregate storage bed. Any excess water that is not taken up by the soils and plants is captured in this bed through an underdrainage system and conveyed to a large cistern and stored for reuse. Once the entire system reaches full capacity, very large storms overflow to the existing municipal sewer line preventing flooding.
During construction, all existing materials were recycled or upcycled. Contractors were educated about installing non-traditional stormwater infrastructure; specifically, the importance of working with soils and plant material. Detailed coordination of construction activities and sequencing was paramount to the importance of the successful implementation of this project. Stringent testing and documentation were required by both the Philadelphia Water Department and SITES™.
Shoemaker Green has become what green infrastructure seldom is: a monitored, high-performance landscape that captures, filters, and effectively delivers clean water back to the environment. A five-year monitoring plan has been developed to allow landscape architects, University of Pennsylvania faculty, students and staff, and the general public to interact with a truly “living system.” The following aspects of the project are being actively monitored by the project landscape architects, faculty, and students, and will shape University policy for years to come: Stormwater quantity and quality entering and exiting the site; Soil biology, diversity, evolution, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, and capacity to support programmed activities; Robustness (growth and root development) and evapotranspiration rates of the plant material; Performance and efficiency of the irrigation capture and reuse system; Behavior mapping to track people’s use of the site; and, Biophilic connections and people’s perception and experience of the green. The design and ongoing monitoring of site performance will help inform future University landscape design and help influence national sustainable landscape guidelines and building codes.