By Samantha Schwirck
For more than 200 years, the 23-acre site adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania has been a center for industry—first part of a ferry crossing, later the headquarters of chemical manufacturers Harrison Brothers Company, and most recently a DuPont laboratory for paint production and research.
The university is continuing the tradition by transforming the property into a new campus for research and innovation, with the repurposed DuPont factory as its 21st-century hub. The 58,000-sq ft, three-story Pennovation Center is part business incubator and part laboratory, with tenants ranging from robotics and engineering students to biotech companies and venture-capitalist developers. Key to the center’s success is an atmosphere that fosters openness, creativity and productivity. Focus Lighting was in charge of making sure the lighting supports that mission.
The lighting also complements the building’s modern, geometric form while respecting its history—the driving force behind its industrial aesthetic—and helps bridge the center with the surrounding landscape. A toolkit comprised mainly of university-standard T8 fluorescent lighting compelled the team to take a cue from the end-user and get creative with Penn’s resources. The finished product offers a glimpse of the type of work possible behind the Pennovation Center’s new doors.
“The building has a communicative personality that informs occupants where they can go to work collaboratively and where isolated work can be found,” explains JP Lira, a principal at Focus Lighting and the project’s lead designer. To that end, the fluorescent fixtures were strategically arranged to create overhead patterns corresponding with each area’s use. A rhythmic configuration of 62 48-in. T8 fluorescent strips (Bartco Lighting), suspended in the first-floor corridor, gently ushers visitors to each end of the building. “The two rows of overhead fluorescents are arranged in a chevron pattern to energize the space with movement and drama,” Lira explains. “The chevron pattern was translated from the pavers installed in the center’s outdoor plaza,” creating cohesiveness between the interior and exterior designs.
An exposed ceiling above communal desks along the second floor’s central corridor showcases the building’s industrial past. “We were unable to relocate an HVAC duct so we created a spinal arrangement of fluorescents to suspend below and embrace the duct, giving it purpose within the design,” Lira says. Using tandem T8 fixtures, the spinal pattern hints at the university’s connection to mechanics and robotics, giving the sense that the building could spring to life at any moment. A second layer of illumination from 3000K single-lamp, 48-in. T8 fluorescent strip lights, hidden above the HVAC duct, highlights the exposed ceiling, which would have otherwise been left as a dark void. An additional modern, linear arrangement of fluorescents defines private labs on the third floor.
LEDs make a cameo above “The Heart,” an area of central bleachers for brainstorming. “LEDs were specified because the fixture locations are difficult to reach for maintenance and re-lamping,” Lira says. An artsy installation of 3500K suspended linear strips (Edge Lighting) recalls a handful of sticks thrown in the air and frozen in space, inspiring child-like curiosity. “The free arrangement indicates a space for creative thinking and sharing ideas,” Lira adds. Surface-mounted adjustable LED accents (BK Lighting) were also integrated into the bleacher area. The fixtures can be easily re-aimed to accommodate different presentation settings.
An outdoor courtyard contrasts the interior work environment with a place to unwind. Forty-nine pole-mounted adjustable image projectors with a gobo pattern (Beachside Lighting) create a dappled moonlight effect across the plaza and courtyard—“a festive atmosphere that gives latenight workers a rest from creative pursuits,” Lira says. Catenary string lights mounted to eight 15- and 30-ft poles drape over the seating area. “The 2700K string lights offer a warm, comfortable respite from the interior’s cool color temperature,” Lira adds—a final example of how “work and play flow organically with each other.”