Editor’s Note: In 2011, for the first time in its history, Temple University hired a campus architect, Margaret Carney, who came to Philadelphia from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The hiring of Carney is one of the first accomplishments of Temple 2020, the campus master plan completed in 2009 and authored by MGA Partners Architects and Olin Studio. This August, work will be completed on a 27 story, 1,275 bed student residence meant to anchor the southern edge of the campus. The dorm, which is comprised of a slender tower and a 10 story mid-rise and incorporates a large public terrace, is also the work of MGA, which sought to create, according to the firm’s lead partner Dan Kelley, a “well built, thoughtfully imagined” installation of contemporary architecture. Kelley is hopeful that Carney, who came to campus a year into the dorm project, will turn Temple into “a campus Philly will be proud of.” He sees the student residence as a key early component in the transformation of the campus. It’s going to be the biggest building they ever built, he notes, “and I want them to say, ‘yes, look at what architecture can accomplish’.”
Among the first major projects Carney will oversee start to finish is a new, state-funded university library north of McGonigle Hall on North Broad Street, to be designed by the visionary Norwegian firm Snøhetta (who is featured in this week’s New Yorker). That project, along with Avenue North, designed by Erdy McHenry, and the Liacouris Center, effectively pulls the Temple campus across Broad Street so that, as Kelley notes, the street no longer acts as a hard border between the campus and the community. We met up with Carney this week to discuss her approach to campus development and architecture. Among much that she hopes to apply in Philadelphia from her work in Cleveland and elsewhere in a long career as an architect and planner in private practice, Carney believes that Temple can have a strong impact on the city by catalyzing high quality development and that SEPTA is an overlooked key to North Broad’s evolution. Our conversation stretched from the history of campus-community conflict (and partnerships) to the life of a college student (her daughter is a Temple freshman) to the wonder of Old City’s narrow streets, which remind her of Tokyo, where she’s worked and lived over the years.
Nathaniel Popkin: Though you’re the first ever campus architect, you’ve entered into a process that’s already ongoing, propelled to a large extent by the Temple 20/20 master plan.
Margaret Carney: I saw the 20/20 plan and it was done by two great Philadelphia firms–MGA and Olin–and I was struck by its unusual scale and commitment to move it ahead and make it happen quickly. It’s unusual for a campus to have that big a vision for such a short period of time. What I particularly love, and what really drives what I’m doing, is embracing Broad Street and making it a great place. It’s our best opportunity to contribute to the city.
When I came to Temple I saw a master plan in place with very good thinking with room to focus outward using development on campus to catalyze other developers. Little did I know the city was on the same track to strengthen the connection between Center City and North Philly up North Broad Street.
In so many ways they’ve been doing something right here. There has been a lot achieved here despite some of the facilities and the rough feeling of the campus. Our hope is to do things that don’t detract from the feeling of Philadelphia, or from Temple. It’s very important for us to identify who we are as university and so much of that identity comes from diversity. When I need inspiration I go around and listen to the kids. There is something very different here than on other campuses: the variety of ideas of opinions makes for a great campus. The challenge for architecture and planning is to represent the diversity.
NP: One of the central issues pushing your work is Temple’s shift from being a commuter university to being a residential one.
MC: That changes so much–housing is just one of hundreds of issues it impacts. Part of it is the character of Broad Street. But so much of this means placing much more emphasis on creating community and opportunities for socializing–how can we get people to get together to work collaboratively? This is a very different point of view for Temple–but this is the whole point of having a university, I think.
NP: Landscape design is integral to your approach, particularly the way, in your mind, that landscape and buildings are part of a single fabric.
MC: Well, first off, there is a lot of low hanging fruit on campus. And we’re all very aware that the campus landscape is part of the brand–landscape is the first thing people see when they come to campus. Temple hadn’t done a lot of things on campus for a long time. So we can target some of these things. Over this past summer we got together with some of the people in facilities and grounds with the idea of doing some dramatic things so that when students returned in the fall they would say “wow, this is getting better.” Some of it has started to happen. On the main Polett Walk, we just replaced the old style benches with new contemporary benches. The response to this one small thing was amazing. Those benches this fall were never empty.
We’re about to start a landscape master plan for campus. This is the next layer of development. With Olin a part of the 20/20 plan there was a lot of attention paid to landscape, but some of those ideas are a few years old and things have changed. The landscape master plan will enable us to start making big moves like opening up a main green space as funding becomes available. In some cases it will mean taking away things that are outdated or serving no purpose. The landscape has got to–especially on a college campus where people spend so much time walking between places–enable people to run into each other informally and give them spaces to socialize.
Our students are really lacking gathering spaces, informal places for them to interact with faculty and so one of the biggest needs is to make people feel they are part of a community. But a lot of kids go home at night with no place on campus to read or talk or meet–we’re missing those opportunities for interaction. That’s the chance we have with this plan.
NP: The biggest and boldest project coming is the new $144 million library, to be built on the west side of Broad Street. As the first academic building to cross Broad it’s an ambitious statement about the movement of the university. But it’s also a project that integrates landscape and public space into building design.
MC: This is going to be a great bold statement and Broad Street has the scale to do this. If the library were buried back in campus it would be an unfortunate lost opportunity.
What you’re talking about is a building that is really bold. But there’s a lot of fear among people, not just here, that by being bold a building isn’t going to be beautiful. But given that this is a library its primary function is to be a place where knowledge is being explored and created. I can’t think of a more poetic purpose for a building.
That in itself sets up an opportunity to make a building that’s beautiful and bold. There are on Broad Street already large buildings around, but very few that anyone would describe as bold. I have no doubt that with Snøhetta on board that’s where this is headed. Temple has gone into it with its eyes open and the Commonwealth (the chief funder) understanding that this needs to be truly remarkable from an architectural standpoint.
NP: The push to the west side of Broad Street means that Temple will be in effect face to face with the North Philadelphia neighborhoods to the west.
MC: We have a new president coming in and all signs about him point to him having a very sincere concern about the community. Temple is really poised with his sensitivity to that to do really well with this project. With the new zoning law and design review we will be very conscious of the building’s impact on the community. I love that the project will include open space at a civic scale. We will not have lost the opportunity to give breathing space to neighborhood and the campus. It’s a great chance to make the street more porous and that’s how we’ll get a sense of Broad Street being more of a zipper instead of a barrier.
NP: You speak a great deal about breaking barriers, and the role of contemporary architecture in doing that. Case in point, in your mind is the planned new science building, designed by the firm Architectural Resources and due to break ground soon, in the center of campus, the first new research building on main campus in 50 years. It’s also the University’s first LEED Gold certified building.
MC: The science building at 12th Street and Polett Walk is going to be real game changer–in terms of it being a new building completely planned out based on research growth and even the creation of new departments. I was able to work with researchers and the dean of the College of Science and Technology who had a real vision of a place where lots of researchers from different disciplines can come together. This is what’s happening in terms of collaborative spaces and big open labs that can evolve over time and provide opportunities for undergraduates so that more of them will have experience working in labs as researchers.
But with this building at a main campus intersection, we’re also very concerned with how it hits the ground. With planned seating areas, shade trees, and two story glass atrium with a cafe, we’re creating a strong connection from the outside to the inside and the inside to the outside.
NP: You’re interest is making buildings that allow people to make connections.
MC: I would say what moves me about contemporary architecture is the way that buildings can engage and draw people in. We are in this really interesting moment in time when material technology has taken over a lot of the way we do things. This gives us a lot of freedom to define space. But at the same time, everyone we talk to wants collaborative space. Between material technology and the desire for collaboration we are inventing new kinds of spaces. For example, technology allow us to use more glass connections to connect people visually. To me, the buildings that hit the mark and change peoples lives are the ones that allow people to see and experience each other in place.
NP:You are striving for physical transparency in Temple’s new buildings, but also something you call authenticity. And this effects the way you view older buildings on campus.
MC:No doubt about it, I love the fact that Temple is eclectic–I’m sure it’s one thing that attracts me to campuses–buildings from different periods tell the story of a history of place, people, and technology. The role of the architect is to interpret and take clues about buildings, to figure out how they work well together, and in our case to understand what are the buildings that are important to the story of Temple and its history and make sure those are protected and made better. Though it’s too small, Paley library is very successful mid-century piece of architecture in the middle of campus. There will be lots of discussion about its future. Everyone seems to feel the same way that I do that the building should be preserved. So it’s important to save old buildings, bring in clever architects to make something new of weak buildings, and make the whole place better by making a strong architectural statement of today that through scale and materials and form can bring everything together.
I feel very strongly about authenticity as a designer. I can’t think of a single imitative building that is really great architecture. When I was a student at Cornell, I had the great theorist and architect Colin Rowe as a professor–he spawned a lot of great urban designers. He had a phrase: “saying that every building is a piece of architecture is like saying everything written is a piece of literature.” I think we’re looking for literature now, not just writing.
About the author
Nathaniel Popkin is the co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and co-producer and senior script editor of the documentary film series "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment." He's the author of Song of the City: An Intimate Portrait of the American Urban Landscape and The Possible City: Exercises in Dreaming Philadelphia.