The design of the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics combines the new with the old



The new Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania for the first time brings together the political science and economics departments of the School of Arts and Sciences in one place. In addition, related academic programs will be located in the new building: Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), Christopher H. Browne Center for International Politics (Browne Center), Center for the Study of Contemporary China (CSCC ), Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, Penn Institute for Economic Research and Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies.

Located at the northeast corner of Walnut and 36th streets, the project involved the adaptive reuse and expansion of the Art Deco style West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company building dating from around 1925. The 110,000-foot project square doubles the capacity of the original bank building. As the first major undergraduate university development north of Walnut, the design is home to Penn’s newest university center for teaching and research.

The exterior of the The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics is conceived as a composition of elevations that respond to the unique conditions of their orientation and context. The main entrance is on 36th Street, where the reimagined existing structure and the new one meet. The exterior elevation maintains a clear contrast between the heritage building and the contemporary addition. The integrity of the Art Deco facade is respected and restored, while the expansion features an abstract geometric composition of glass and aluminum mullions atop a transparent base at street level. In terms of scale, proportion and detail, the design of the addition is inspired by the vertical proportions of the bank building.

The interior spaces are perfectly integrated and completely contemporary. A monumental steel and terrazzo staircase located in the space between the old and the new connects the first three levels, including the basement, which together contain the teaching, meeting and gathering spaces. The central core of the lower, second and third levels is clad in oak to add warmth and texture. These floors are distinguished by light corridors of generous dimensions, along which are organized teaching, meeting and seating areas.

View of heritage Art Deco windows from undergraduate study / living room on first level. Photo copyright Adrien Williams, Courtesy of KPMB.

KPMB Architects led the design team, bringing expertise in the creation of institutional projects integrating heritage architecture in sensitive urban and campus contexts with sustainable design. The Ronald O. Perelman Center is designed to meet Penn’s LEED Silver goal.

“The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics looks great in all directions,” says former university architect David Hollenberg. “Its skillful marriage of the new and the old not only resonates with the rest of the campus, but is also a fitting expression of the college life it contains. With its visibility of a block of student life along 36th Street, it significantly enlivens a prominent university district.

Shirley Blumberg, Responsible Partner of KPMB Architects, says: “The new Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics extends the vibrancy of campus life into the bustling urban neighborhood north of Walnut Street. We designed the new addition to record and complement the historic elegance and vertical proportions of the original limestone building. The transparency of the base connects the heart of the new university community to public life, while the upper levels offer spectacular views of the city and campus skyline. This resonant conversation between the old and the new creates interconnectivity and collaborative spaces and a vibrant and vibrant ground floor for undergraduate student services.

The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics was started with a leadership gift from alumnus Ronald O. Perelman. A distinguished member of Penn’s Board of Trustees and a longtime benefactor of the University, Perelman holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Penn’s Wharton School. He is currently President and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes Incorporated.

The building will be officially opened at a christening event on November 8.

The main exterior features of the project include:

The contemporary facades of the overall composition are detailed to create geometric and abstract compositions expressing the program within. For example, the glass and steel elevation of the contemporary addition on 36th Street transforms when viewed from different angles while expressing the respective public and office programs within.

The public spaces feature wooden ceilings and walls clearly visible from the outside, allowing a clear reading of the social structure inherent in the building’s design.

The north elevation facing Sansom Street is recessed on the third level to relate to the scale of the residential context, creating an outdoor terrace on the third level accessible from the alumni lounge.

The east elevation exposes the intersecting program of new and heritage spaces and features a landscaped ramp leading to a second main entrance. It also includes a series of stacked conference rooms on levels four to six, their volumes distinguished by wooden slatted ceilings visible from the outside.

The integrity of the heritage façade on Walnut Street is fully preserved. The entrance vestibule is restored and is distinguished by the incorporation of two lion’s heads carved in stone which were removed from the Walnut Street elevation to accommodate the building’s new signage.


View of the atrium staircase, reception and undergraduate study / lounge area looking south from the lobby. Photo copyright Adrien Williams, Courtesy of KPMB.

Unique interior features of the project include:

The western part of the Art Deco double-height banking room is updated and transformed into a two-story lounge with seating arranged to the rhythm of the eight large vertical windows, distinguished by ornamental cast-iron frames.

The auditorium / conference room, located below ground level, features indigo blue stained wood slat walls to reinforce Penn’s identity and can seat 120 people.

On the second level, the Forum, a multipurpose space with a capacity of 72 people, overlooks the double-height atrium / lounge and above the Art Deco windows.

The three upper levels contain the offices of graduates and professors, organized according to a rigorous spatial module to optimize efficiency. Strategic applications of translucent and transparent glass windows and walls create a bright and connected environment to inspire teamwork and the sharing of ideas and knowledge.

Windows that open are provided throughout.

The 50% glazed exterior is accented with metal and a sunshade.

Indigo blue, an accent color woven throughout the scheme, takes inspiration from Penn’s signature blue and comes in a range of intensities, from soft blue-gray tones in the terrazzo floors, to denim tones in the The Auditorium’s stained wood walls, and bright indigo along the main hallways of the upper levels.

    • 1

      Auditorium for 120 people

    • 6

      Classrooms of the School of Arts and Sciences

    • 6

      Rooms and study centers

    • 1

      Faculty lounge and outdoor terrace

    • 2

      Graduate student fairs

    • 19

      Graduate student offices


View north from Walnut and 36th streets. Exterior elevation showing the respected and restored Art Deco facade and glass and aluminum mullions of the contemporary addition in the distance. Photo copyright Adrien Williams, Courtesy of KPMB.

Sustainability measures:

  • LEED Silver certification objective
  • Access to public transport
  • 20% reduction in water consumption
  • Water-efficient landscaping, including the use of native or adapted vegetation
  • Optimizes energy performance for heating and cooling, energy harvesting and participation in the University of Pennsylvania green energy system
  • Storage and collection of recyclable materials throughout the building
  • Meet indoor thermal comfort requirements
  • Opening windows in all offices
  • Reduction of heat islands thanks to the use of a reflective roof

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