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Coming soon: A grand, green Perelman Plaza

September 23, 2013

Perelman Plaza rendering
An artist's rendering of Perelman Plaza, as seen from Chestnut Street looking north.

As the 2012 Campus Master Plan becomes reality, it sometimes seems like the new Drexel has been waiting in the ground beneath the old. Another piece pushed its way up through the surface in late summer, as preparations began for Perelman Plaza along the 32nd Street right-of-way.

Made possible by a $5 million gift from philanthropist Raymond G. Perelman, the plaza is envisioned as a new hub for the Drexel community at the heart of campus. The space will provide both easier pedestrian travel and more opportunities for connection and interaction, according to Bob Francis, vice president for University Facilities. The plaza’s design integrates sustainable rainwater management and usage, and it will feature the University’s largest outdoor event space.

Fences erected in August were scheduled to come down temporarily this week in time for the start of classes. But returning students will notice that the layout has already begun to change, and much more work is in store to complete the transformation by spring.

DrexelNow asked Francis for his take on the Perelman Plaza project.

What’s your personal favorite feature of the Perelman Plaza design?

My favorite thing has to be the share of space devoted to plantings and informal seating. This design is very much in keeping with the flexible, urban spaces being developed across West Philadelphia.

What’s generally expected of urban campus outdoor spaces these days?

Urban spaces have enormous performance requirements. They need to attract users to make them safe and inviting while facilitating easy passage. There has to be balance between fixed and moveable elements. They need amenities like food and beverage, planting and seating. They need the qualities of rooms, with a feeling of definition and enclosure.  

Why did Drexel have to rethink the 32nd Street thoroughfare under the master plan?

Although it’s not especially old, about a decade, the previous design was based on half the foot traffic Drexel now enjoys. Broadening the paths and eliminating vertical clutter were important goals.

What role will Perelman Plaza play in Drexel’s future campus?

Perelman Plaza will do so many things for Drexel, providing the only outdoor space capable of seating a large event. It will beautify first and foremost. It will be a primary connection to Chestnut Street and expanded retail on Drexel's southern flank. And it will provide a visual connection north through the Innovation Neighborhood, all while moving large volumes of pedestrian traffic.

How will Perelman Plaza relate to Drexel’s two newest buildings, Gerri C. LeBow Hall and Chestnut Square?

The plaza will be integrally connected with Chestnut Square from the beginning. The interaction of the plaza, LeBow Hall and the adjacent Quad will be more complicated, and it reveals the need to reinvigorate the Woodland Walk connector [running diagonally through campus] and the green space surrounding the Walk. That’s the next big opportunity.