Drexel University is primed for a growth spurt. The institution has announced the completion of a masterplan that will guide the next 20 years of development on its campus in West Philadelphia. Devised by consortium of consultants led by Boston firm Goody Clancy, the plan seeks to build density and deepen the school’s connection to its urban surroundings as it moves to increase enrollment from 23,000 to more than 34,000 students by 2021.
John Fry, Drexel’s president, hired Goody Clancy in 2011 to build on expansion projects that had been initiated by his predecessor, Chuck Pennoni. Those projects were geared toward helping the institution—historically a commuter school—build a robust campus life. “They had a number of well conceived projects underway—a few dormitories, a business school—but none of them were knitted together,” said Ben Carlson, an associate on the project at Goody Clancy. “Our job was to take those projects and Drexel’s future aspirations and weave them together, building a social culture while easing the impact on adjacent neighborhoods.”
The firm proceeded by way of a collaborative process, working with its consultants and conducting outreach to Drexel faculty, staff, and students as well as to the surrounding community. In multiple meetings and through online forums and social media, the planners put forth ideas and listened to stakeholder feedback. “We were struck by the ambition of the Drexel community and how fast the whole process moved,” said Carlson. “We finished the plan in 11 months.”
Through its outreach programs, Goody Clancy outlined four themes that guide the masterplan. The first is to distinguish Drexel’s campus as a vibrant urban university district through the construction of 3 million to 5.2 million square feet of new academic and student resident space and 3.2 to 5.3 million square feet of mixed-use residential and commercial space. In other words, the plan is to add not just university-programmed space, but to also build market-rate residential and commercial space in the 60 acres between 30th and 36th streets and Chestnut and Powelton avenues that is the institution’s epicenter.
The second theme is to bring the campus to the street. Most of Drexel’s architecture was built in the 1950s when the prevailing ideas led to fortress-like buildings whose spacious setbacks do not engage the sidewalks, which nevertheless teem with pedestrians. In part the plan proposes to fix this state of affairs with small-footprint projects to infill the setbacks; in part it proposes new comprehensive buildings that are built up to the street and have active ground floors. Some of the new storefront spaces will be retail, others will be institutional. The plan also calls for the greening of the streetscape with trees and other plantings.
The third theme is to draw the community together around shared places. This includes the development of informal settings where diverse groups of people can convene. In addition to building atriums and parks, this also includes private business such as cafes, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
The fourth theme is to expand the innovation community. This somewhat vague theme ties into Drexel’s well-regarded cooperative education program, wherein students can get up to 18 months of paid full-time working experience before graduating. As part of the overall effort to further integrate the school with the city, the plan proposes to intensify the overlap between campus and workplace by relocating the Steinbright Career Development Center to a prominent location on Market Street. The scheme also includes introducing and promoting sustainability measures on campus, such as an ongoing city-wide effort to improve Philadelphia’s stormwater management through green roofs and permeable paving, as well as the introduction of bike paths and greenways, which will encourage active, multi-modal streets.