“It seems safe to say that Meyerson Hall, home to Penn’s School of Design, has never in its 60 years of existence been what could be called an iconic design,” a narrator stated bluntly at the start of a new fundraising video for a comprehensive overhaul of the University of Pennsylvania’s architecture school. It seems no one is particularly fond of the boxy concrete building built in 1967 by Martin, Stewart, Noble & Class Architects, whose four namesakes graduated from the school. “Let’s just say that it didn’t come from one of the great periods of American architecture,” Marilyn Jordan Taylor, dean of the School of Design, said in the video.
“It’s a light and glassy piece that leads you in—the angle of the glass brings the scale down to the pedestrian level as you move into the campus green,” Erdy noted, adding that the glass facade will let in natural light on the building’s north side. “Even though it’s an expansion of the building, it’s going to be less heavy than what’s already there.”
Over the past three summers, Erdy’s team has been renovating studio space on the second, third, and fourth floors and fortifying Meyerson’s mechanical systems. “We’ve been working very hard to make the renovation happen within an occupied building,” Erdy said.
The new Meyerson Hall is all about collaboration in a school spread out over six buildings. “We’re trying to create a center for PennDesign,” he said. “The idea is that the building really becomes a focal point for the school.” The school includes sculpture, planning, architecture, and landscape among its programs. “The biggest thing we’ve been able to achieve is to make it more interdisciplinary,” Erdy said.
Old studios were clustered into hermetic “cubbies” that made teaching difficult. In an age of technology and rapid prototyping informing design education, Erdy essentially turned the building’s original scheme inside out to create flexible and free-flowing studios. Instead of specialized and compartmentalized spaces, new studios foster an open, interdisciplinary approach.
Each studio now has its own pin-up spaces capable of digital projection and a series of 3D printers are located in the studios. “The key with technology is to not let it get in the way of your process,” Erdy said. “We wanted technology that is seamless—that you don’t even think about. It’s exciting to see how fast something can be prototyped in the studio. We’re setting up the infrastructure in the building to make that happen.”