PHILADELPHIA – An old paint factory has been renovated into a platform for innovation and social engagement at the University of Pennsylvania. The Pennovation Center 'ideas factory' has been given a new lease of life as a dedicated social environment for consultation, experimentation and investigation. New York-based architecture firm Hollwich Kushner has transformed the former industrial building, adding a striking new glazed façade in the process, in the first part of a renovation that is in line with other modernisation projects to be undertaken at the University of Pennsylvania.
The project was developed to encourage 21st century thinking and force an adaptation to the way that labs and offices are used. The main ingredient that differentiates the new concept from its traditional roots is the sense of creating areas for 'community and collaboration' as tools for innovation. The architecture team has purposely promoted this within the angular spaces created by the new façade. The firm states that the concept of 'tempt[ing] entrepreneurs to leave their desks and engage with their colleagues’ is an important change to the previous way that the building was used.
A new triangular glazed entrance on the south elevation, along with a significant increase in the number of windows, updates the exterior elevations of the building's original design. A new illuminated sign on the roof – standing at 3.4-m high – spells out the building’s name and acts as a glowing red beacon to the rest of the city. This, in combination with its new geometric edge and angular forms reaching out towards the Schuylkill River, presents an attractive first impression and emphasises its new role as a place for ideas and innovation.
The main portion of the site hosts more generic laboratories and co-working spaces. However, concealed behind the geometric glass face of the extension, the new internal environments include meeting spaces, eating areas and expansive concrete bleacher seating, which is aimed at opening up dialogue between colleagues and investors.
The interior palette is raw and industrial. Polished concrete surfaces and exposed services provide a composed and mature aesthetic, with steel columns following the rigid grid of the exterior framework. Although the overall ambience is quite cold, it is an appropriate match for the innovation centre, as it prevents distraction and allows the key focus to stay with the ideas being generated within.
The simplicity of the lighting detail creates a uniformed aesthetic throughout the scheme, joining the old and new developments of the building together as one unit. Acting almost as way-finders, a series of white tubular fixtures – designed by Focus Lighting in collaboration with Bruce Mau Design – draw attention to the areas where the action happens by highlighting the key workspaces from overhead.