McHarg, Ian T.

Alfred Newton Richards Medical Research Laboratories and David Goddard Laboratories Buildings

Added by jon buono, last update: October 14, 2011, 8:54 pm

Alfred Newton Richards Medical Research Laboratories and David Goddard Laboratories Buildings
3700-3710 Hamilton Walk University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 10025
United States
39° 56' 59.3628" N, 75° 11' 54.5352" W
Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Education (EDC)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

Commission brief: In the postwar, the desire to expand the University of Pennsylvania’s medical facilities and improve the image of the University as an innovative and modern research institution prompted a large-scale building initiative. Major funding for these new projects was undertaken through the leadership of Dr. Norman H. Topping, Vice President for Medical Affairs, and he would continue to play a large role in the development of the new Medical “wing.” The commission for a new building to house five different departments including “physiology, microbiology, research surger, public health, and the Johnson Foundation” (Brownlee 324), was officially approved in 1956, and G. Holmes Perkins, then Dean of the School of Fine Arts, and Sydney Martin, a University Trustee proposed two architects to design the new building. One was Louis Kahn, the other Eero Saarinen. Saarinen was ultimately given the commission of a women’s dormitory (Hill House) instead, and in February 1957, Kahn was officially presented the commission by the University President Gaylord Harnwell.

Design brief: A planning committee composed of various faculty members whose departments were to share the new space was to give input on the design. The committee’s own initial design plans were traditional for laboratory spaces – the standard double loaded corridor with modular bays that allowed for flexible configuration of spaces. Kahn rejected this, believing that researchers needed both physical and “psychological” contact with each other (Museum of Art Bulletin, 1961, v.28, n.1, p. 4) and instead planned for a more open, studio-like layout, and having the spaces stacked in a tower instead of being linear. Another primary concern was having proper exhaust, due to the noxious nature of research being performed. Thus the creation of “servant” and “served” spaces, with three “servant” towers with smaller exhaust stacks clustering around a “service” tower with four large air-intake ventilation stacks.

Construction history: Finished much over budget, and with tension building among faculty members over the configuration of the space which became a major source of tension between client and architect, Kahn was forced to make many compromises in design, especially in the second phase of the project. These concessions would severely affect the performance and comfort of the buildings, including elimination of shading devices and reduction of insulation, and the usage of cheaper building materials in Goddard. By the time of its completion in 1965, not only had the building size been reduced, but the exterior plaza space had been also scaled back in size.

Dates: Commission / Completion:1957: Kahn began design work on Goddard later that year, however during the design stage, Kahn was initially recommended only as a consultant for the project due to the University’s dissatisfaction with the proceedings of the first phase of the project. 1958: Start of work. Completion: official naming ceremony held in 1960 for Richards; primary construction finishes in 1963 for Richards and 1964 for Goddard; final completion date for entire site including documentation and landscaping is 1965.
Architectural and other Designer(s): architect(s): Louis Isadore Kahn landscape/garden designer(s): Ian T. McHarg; George Patton (ultimately, his designs for the plaza were uncompleted). other designer(s): Dr. August E. Komendant (structural consultant); Atlantic Prestressed Concrete Co. (prefabricator). Richards: Keast and Hood (structural engineers); James T. Clark (electrical engineer); Cronheim and Weger (mechanical engineers); Fred S. Dubin (mechanical and electrical engineers). building contractor(s): Joseph R. Farrell, Inc., (general contractor); additionally, for the construction of Goddard, United Engineers and Constructors were brought in to help complete the project.
Others associated with Building/Site: The two namesakes of the buildings, Alfred Newton Richard and David R. Goddard, were two notable professor and researchers of the period who assisted in the development of the buildings.
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): Minimal alterations include renovations done to the buildings as needed to comply with safety codes and modernize research facilities.
Current Use: Primarily used as research and teaching facilities for the Penn Medical and Biology departments. Despite minor alterations and additions, the overall integrity of Kahn’s building design has been preserved.
Current Condition: As a whole, the site is in relatively good condition, though noticeable wear can be seen on the exterior and interior. Goddard is in worse condition than Richards, however, having been built of cheaper materials, and the masonry units and concrete have deteriorated more rapidly over time. Interior components, such as the partitions have been adjusted to accommodate necessary space, while secondary elements such as shading devices and paint have been added to the structure.
General Description:

The Richards and Goddard complex is cluster of interconnected towers, divided into “served” (the laboratory areas) and “servant spaces” (the utilities, mechanical areas, etc.). Whereas Richards had more of a “pinwheel” (Cooperman, NHL nominations draft, p. 6) type of formation, the addition of Goddard took on a more linear form. However the structural frame and stacked layout of open spaces remained key elements in the composition for both projects. The structural system which consists of an interlocking assembly of prefabricated reinforced concrete units in the form of large Vierendeel trusses, beams and H-plan columns, allowing the corner of the buildings to be “freely dissolved” (Gast, 2001, p. 60) and for a “rigorous clarity” of functional structure (Museum of Art Bulletin, 1961, v.28, n.1, p.12).

The towers are marked by exposed reinforced concrete and large steel framed windows. The masonry-clad exterior of the buildings also evokes the surrounding landscape of Cope & Stewardson’s buildings. In contrast to Richards, the exterior of Goddard also is punctuated by cubic projections which articulate the interior carrel spaces.

The interior of the buildings also retains the raw the materiality of the exterior, with, for example, exposed ductwork and piping, and rough concrete surfaces showing the formwork of the poured-in-place concrete. Exposed brick was also used in Goddard. The interior of these buildings is generally considered secondary in nature to the technical aspects of the building.

Construction Period:

Precast concrete assembly

Original Physical Context:

Site occupied by several buildings which were razed for construction, including a greenhouse and the John M. MacFarlane Hall of Botany. Located on the University of Pennsylvania campus, with the southern face of the complex overlooking the BioPond (Kaskey Park). Goddard Laboratories is directly connected to Richards, which also has direct access to the John Morgan Building (1904) from its east side. Other buildings of note in the surrounding area include The Quadrangle (1895) and Leidy Laboratories (1910) built in the Collegiate Gothic style by Cope & Stewardson (which also designed the John Morgan Building).

According to the current Director for Facilities Planning and Space Management for the University, Maureen Ward, future renovations on the site seek to shift the programming of the building into the direction of ‘dry’ research only, since the current service facilities such as the HVAC are insufficient for modern laboratory demands (personal communication, February 26, 2010). In some cases, the concrete slabs have had to be reinforced, because the live loads of the current programmatic usage are too great on the existing infrastructure.

Technical Evaluation:

An important person behind one of the United States’ first major precast concrete building was Kahn’s structural consultant, Dr. August E. Komendant who specialized in this new type of reinforced construction method.

The result is a structural, machine-like system that is expressive of the function of the space, and allowed for a column-less space of 45’ x 45’ on a nine-square grid to be used for the primary studio-labs. These labs were supported on a precast concrete assembly. Major components include H-columns on the perimeter of the floor-plates instead of at the corners (which allowed for more natural light to be brought into the spaces through large plate-glass windows) and Vierendeel trusses which provided an articulate, open space for the organization and distribution of the mechanical and plumbing systems. This precast assembly was assembled floor by floor, with pretensioned beams and crossbeams secured to each other by post-tensioned cables. This new system was a step forward not only for architecture, but also for the construction industry, which had to coordinate a new system of highly-precise assembly with complicated equipment, and a new process of “mass-production” on site (Leslie, 2005, p. 115) was created.


The building project became an international symbol for the University of Pennsylvania as a modern research institution. Its solid volumetric form, seamless integration of disparate parts and materials into a monolithic sculpture, towered over its surroundings. Its novel construction methods and design, in contrast to its neighboring predecessors, reinforced the new identity and future direction that Penn and the architectural community on campus wanted to take. It was to be a premier, forward-thinking, institution.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Praised for its ”moral honesty,” (Architectural Record, April 1963, p. 26), structural clarity and ingenuity, the Richards and Goddard complex was a clear reaction against the International Style, defined by the thin glass membranes of the curtain wall systems exemplified by the PSFS building in Philadelphia. Although Perkins, in nominating Kahn, had desired to move the school away from the traditional Beaux-Arts style, Kahn did not discard his Beaux-arts background completely. Kahn was a long-time admirer of Classical structures like Trajan’s Forum and other historical monuments such as San Gimignano , and the primal materialistic quality, geometric simplicity and symmetry reflect his training and personal experience. However, not all critics appreciated the lyrical purity and beauty of the structure, especially to those working inside, many of whom found the building to be “ugly” and unimpressive, especially from the interior. The problems of solar gain and ventilation, lack of adequate laboratory space, contributed to the criticism of the building, both at its time and even today (see article in the Daily Pennsylvanian, January 28, 2009).
General Assessment:
Before completion of the Richards/Goddard complex, critics from around the world were already heralding the project as the vanguard of the Modern Movement and a solo exhibit in 1961 by MOMA highlighting Richards seemed to solidify not only the building’s place in history, but also Kahn’s. Most articles praised the technical rigor, and simultaneously ignored its interior, which could not be completely defended, especially to the scientists who had to work in the building. In spite of its numerous problems, the building was a huge step forward not only technologically and stylistically, but also conceptually in the way that psychological analysis and human connection to the building itself and to each other were explored in the design. Furthermore, the typology of the sterile research laboratory and other programs of its type, were “elevated in status” (Cooperman, NHL nominations draft, p. 35). The legacy of the building project was immediately apparent, especially in Kahn’s work, where major themes of “served” and “servant” spaces and the overall tectonics of the building and material expression continued to be explored and played out to a certain degree of finesse, most notably as seen in the contemporaneous project of the Salk institute and Exeter Library. Similarly, the Richards and Goddard buildings would also continue to inspire other architects around the world such as Robert Venturi, Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano and Tadao Ando in their design processes. Also, worthy of note, is the that the Richards and Goddard building is the first of Kahn’s buildings to be named a National Historic Landmark, despite not having met the requisite 50 years generally required to be considered.
Text references:

Anon. “Logic and Art in Precast Concrete: Medical Research Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA,” Architectural Record, v. 126, no. 3, September 1959, pp. 233-238.

Scully, Vincent, “The Precisionist Strain in American Architecture.” Art in America, v. 48, no. 8, 1960, pp. 46-53.

Anon. “A Theory for the Future,” Architectural Forum 112:1, January 1960, pp. 138-140.

- - - -. “Form Evokes Function,” Time 75, no. 23, June 6, 1960, p. 76.

Fitch, James Marston, “A Building of Rugged Fundamentals,” Architectural Forum, July 1960, v. 113, n.1, pp. 82-87.

Anon. “Art Serves Science,” Architectural Record, v. 128, August 1960, pp. 149-156.

Wilder, Green, “Louis I. Kahn, Architect, Alfred Newton Richards Building, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1958-1960,” Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, 1961, v. 28, n. 1, pp. 3-23.

Huxtable, Ada Louise, “In Philadelphia, An Architect,” New York Times, June 11, 1961.

“Medical Research Buildings,” Arts and Architecture, August 1961, v. 78, pp. 14-17, 28.

Banham, Reyner. “On Trial 1: The Situation: What Architecture of Technology?” Architectural Review v. 131, no. 780, February 1962, pp. 97-99.

Dixon, John Morris and James T. Burns, Jr., “Kahn’s Second Phase at Pennsylvania; New Biology Building,” Progressive Architecture 45, no. 9, September 1964, pp. 208-13.

Cooperman, Emily T. “National Historic Landmark Nominations Form,” May 2008.


Scully, Vincent, Louis I. Kahn, New York: George Braziller, 1962.

Giurgola, Romaldo and Jaimini Mehta, Louis I. Kahn, Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1975.

Latour, Alessandra, ed., Louis I. Kahn: l’uomo, il maestro, Roma: Kappa, 1986.

Ronner, Heinz and Sharad Jhaveri, Louis I. Kahn: Complete Work, 1935-1974, Basel, Birkhauser Verlag, 1987.

Latour, Alessandra, ed, Louis I. Kahn: Writings, Lectures, Interviews, New York, Rizzoli International Publications, 1991.

Brownlee, David and David G. De Long, Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture, New York, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1991.

Klaus-Peter Gast, Louis I. Kahn, Boston, Massachusetts, Birkhauser Verlag, 1999.

McCarter, Robert, Louis I. Kahn, New York, Phaidon Press, 2003.

Leslie, Thomas, Louis I. Kahn: Building Art, Building Science, New York, George Braziller, 2005.

Rosa, Joseph, Louis I. Kahn, 1901-1974: Enlightened Space, Koln, Taschen, 2006.

Wiseman, Carter, Louis I. Kahn: Beyond Time and Style, New York, W.W. Norton, 2007.


”My Architect: A Son’s Journey” / a film by Nathaniel Kahn. New York Video, 2005.

Recorder/Date: Nelly Chang / March 4, 2010
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