American Society of Landscape Architects ASLA 2007 Professional Awards
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Penn Connects: A Vision for the Future, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sasaki Associates, Inc., Watertown, Massachusetts
client: University of Pennsylvania

"Really straightforward and impressive. The approach is explained very thoroughly and the perspective sketches are evocative--it's just the right tone for a public audience. Nice phasing and the extension of the Locust block is brilliant. Many communities can learn a lot from this."

— 2007 Professional Awards Jury Comments

Project Statement

Penn Connects – A Vision for the Future, outlines the growth of the University of Pennsylvania and represents a strategic use of contemporary planning, urban and landscape design. It provides a model for integrating campus and the surrounding urban fabric to create a visionary framework for public realm improvements and campus expansion. The outcome is a dynamic mixed-use urban district that reclaims industrial sites and replaces transportation related tracts along the Schuylkill River corridor to a vibrant gateway between Center City and University City.

Narrative Summary:
In April 2007, the University of Pennsylvania will acquire 24 acres of land along the Schuylkill River in West Philadelphia--land which currently separates the Penn campus from the river and from Center City Philadelphia. Generations of Philadelphians have thought of this district as the literal gateway to the city and the universities. At present the area consists of a vast working infrastructure—a bustling neo-classical railway station, elevated rail lines rising 60 feet on massive steel and stone supports, numerous bridges carrying both vehicles and pedestrians and connecting to highways on both sides, a vast postal processing facility, and about 14 acres of surface parking. Activity takes place not just at all hours but at multiple levels – trains passing above, cars speeding by, and the odd boat plying the river.

The land acquisition, including other University-owned parcels located along the Schuylkill River, will provide over 42 acres of land for future development in what is known as the east campus area. It will enable Penn, for the first time in its history, to reclaim and design a brownfield into a new gateway to the campus from Center City, to establish a physical presence along the Schuylkill River, and to establish new connections with the surrounding urban context. The area acquired presents several design challenges including: major transportation corridors that segment and define the boundaries of the land area; irregular and fragmented development parcels; land parcels which are inaccessible from the existing road network; elevation differences in the road network, including bridges over the Schuylkill River; the 100-year floodplain of the river; and incorporation of the iconic stadium and sports arena, Franklin Field and the Palestra, in a sensitive and appropriate manner.

In anticipation of the acquisition, the University engaged in a year long planning process to develop a vision for integrating the acquired land into the campus environment. The planning process was guided by the Campus Development Planning Committee (CDPC) and involved multiple consultations with members of the campus community, and public representatives which included evening forums with faculty, staff, students, and the public to review progress on the project and the emerging recommendations of the plan. The proposed Vision Plan goes beyond determining how best to utilize the acquired land. It addresses the planning and design opportunities for the land in the context of the entire campus, in the context of the surrounding University City district, and in the context of the mission of the University as guided by President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact. The Penn Compact is based on three principles: 1) Increased access to education; 2) Integration of knowledge from different disciplines and professional perspectives in research and teaching; and 3) Engagement at a local and global level to advance the central values of democracy: life, liberty, opportunity, and mutual respect.


The planning process commenced in June 2005 under the direction and guidance of the Campus Development and Planning Committee (CDPC) appointed by President Gutmann. The charge issued to the CDPC by President Gutmann provided the key goals for study:

  • To articulate a long-term vision for the development of the campus consonant with the Penn Compact
  • To recommend optimal uses for development sites on the acquired parcels, taking into consideration financial models and/or fundraising opportunities for each project
  • To outline a feasible timetable and process for overseeing the implementation of the plan and ensure it is integrated with the capital planning process
  • To develop well-structured plans for the development of the campus that take account of the University’s highest priorities, and that are consistent with the following principles:
    - Planning should be carried out in the context of the entire campus and be driven by University-wide priorities
    - Undergraduate education should remain on the core campus
    - Penn should create an aesthetically appealing mixed-use, around-the-clock, urban environment with strong east/west links between the campus and Center City
    - Development should be phased by zones and identify land-banking opportunities to preserve options for future needs


The east campus area presents a number of development opportunities and constraints that are addressed in the Vision Plan:

Iconic Structures – the east campus area includes Franklin Field, Penn’s football stadium, and the Palestra, Penn’s basketball arena. Both structures are major landmarks and provide several opportunities for creating new public gathering spaces.

Transportation corridors – a series of transportation corridors traverse the east campus area, listed from west to east as follows: the SEPTA regional transit line connecting 30th Street Station and the Airport; the Highline freight railway, which is elevated some 60 feet above the ground plain on a combination of stone and steel supporting elements; the northeast rail corridor of AMTRAK; and Interstate 76. Combined, these corridors segment the east campus land into several disconnected parcels, many of which are difficult to develop as a result of irregular and triangular configurations and the lack of direct access from the roadway network. Further, they limit opportunities for ground level north/south circulation through the east campus area.

100 Year floodplain of the Schuylkill River – the Schuylkill River floodplain covers several acres of the east campus area, further limiting the development potential of the land, and resulting in the need to elevate much of the proposed development on parking structures.

Bridge and surface road network – the existing roads serving the east campus area occur at the level of the Walnut and South Street Bridges, which cross the Schuylkill River; and the surface roads beneath the bridges, which include Lower Walnut Street and Lower 31st Street.

Penn engaged in a year long planning process to develop a vision for integrating the acquired land into the campus environment. The process was guided by the Campus Development Planning Committee (CDPC) and involved multiple consultations with members of the campus community and public representatives. Data and planning information was provided by the University’s staff of professional landscape architects, planners, and architects. A total of six development options were developed for integrating the acquired land for the highest and best purposes. Each option was evaluated utilizing criteria for sustainability, design, operations, implementation and cost. Based on the comments received, three options were selected for further exploration ultimately leading to the selection of the concept that inspired the master plan. The landscape architects were engaged in the design direction for the public realm including streetscapes, parkland, and pedestrian routes for the entire campus. In subsequent phases, the firm was engaged in the design development process for the urban park and sports fields proposed for the acquired land along the Schuylkill River corridor.

Connecting the University to Center City and Center City to the University is central to the vision for the Penn campus. The Vision Plan provides guidance for the east campus area as well as several other infill and redevelopment sites along the Walnut Street corridor and in the established core of the Penn campus.

The circulation, landscape structure and development opportunity sites of the Vision Plan are organized by “The Bridges of Connectivity” – a series of existing and proposed bridges that link the campus to Center City and the neighborhoods east of the Schuylkill River. Conceptually, the bridges are viewed as armatures for major physical improvements. Each bridge integrates the east campus lands with the core campus and Center City to create a flexible framework for accommodating current and future development needs. Each bridge thematically organizes uses and activities:

  • The Living/Learning Bridge – the Walnut Street corridor is transformed in the plan through a combination of infill and new development to create a new gateway to the campus from Center City. It accommodates a mix of academic, research, residential, cultural, and support amenities that address programmatic needs and contribute to the overall quality of the pedestrian experience.
  • The Sports and Recreation Bridge – a new pedestrian bridge over the Schuylkill is envisioned as a continuation of Locust Walk, which will be extended eastward to engage two major new public gathering spaces adjacent to the Palestra and Franklin Field: Palestra Green and Franklin Plaza. A concentration of new sports and recreation facilities will flank the bridge, including a renovated Palestra, a new field house, and several new sports fields constructed on the east campus/postal lands.
  • The Cultural and Health Sciences Bridge – the South Street Bridge is envisioned as the cultural and sports gateway to the campus. The planned reconstruction of the bridge by the City provides the opportunity to line the street with new uses related to the cultural functions of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and provide better connections to the adjacent Medical District. A combination of streetscape improvements and new uses, including small scale cultural facilities, amenities, and sports fields, will transform the pedestrian experience along the reconstructed bridge.
  • The Research Bridge – a new pedestrian bridge is proposed to connect Penn’s Medical District with east campus lands to accommodate new medical and research uses over the long term. The bridge will be coordinated with a new green space, Museum Plaza, designed to provide public space in this dense area of the campus, a direct and visible pedestrian route to University City transit station, and a visual connection to the river.

The proposed civic structure of the east campus area is based on a new framework of open space and circulation routes which collectively link the land to the core campus and the surrounding urban context. Major new public space proposed in conjunction with the pedestrian circulation network includes:

  • Palestra Green, located to the west of the Palestra, serves as the gateway to the east campus, is envisioned as a new public space providing passive recreation opportunities, a gathering space for major events, and a foreground landscape for the iconic west façade of the Palestra.
  • Franklin Promenade and Plaza, located to the north of the stadium, the Franklin Promenade is envisioned as the linkage space between Palestra Green and Franklin Plaza. It will be flanked by new fitness and recreation uses incorporated into the arcade of Franklin Field. Franklin Plaza extends the public space over the SEPTA line to provide access to the sports and recreation proposed for the east campus area.
  • Sports and Recreation Fields – the sports and recreation fields are central to the civic and public space framework for the east campus area. They are located in a park environment featuring a series of sculptural landforms and berms that provide visual and acoustical separation from the rail lines and I-76. The landforms include inlets that allow water from the river to flood the sports and recreation fields during storm surges.
  • Museum Green, located to the south of the Museum, is intended to provide open space in this densely developed area.
  • Plaza over I-76 - a new plaza is proposed over I-76 in the medical /research expansion district to provide a riverfront overlook.

The recently completed outcome of the research and planning process, ‘Penn Connects: A Vision for the Future’ addresses the planning and design opportunities for the land and a flexible phasing strategy to assist the university in incrementally implementing the vision over the next thirty years or longer. The Vision plan defines a public realm of streets, parks, connections, and new buildings enhancing the presence of the University and the City. It offers a flexible, pragmatic approach and provides the initial framework for creating an integrated, mixed-use, urban district, blurring the perceived boundaries of Center City and University City.

Project Resources

Master Planning, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design:
Sasaki Associates, Inc.



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