Penn Center Masterplan

Added on by Timothy Brown.

I'm at Penn Center on St. Helena Island this week with five students from my fall semester design studio at IIT. We've been working on a master-plan for the Penn Center campus this semester and we've been invited down to present the first round of schemes at today's meeting of the Board of Directors. We did a preliminary presentation to the staff yesterday afternoon upon arrival, and will go before the full Board this morning.


The studio was a comprehensive building design studio so each student also developed a full building project as well as developing the campus plan in large groups. Once finished with the project for the National Park Service's planned Gullah Cultural Center, the two planning teams re-formed and crunched out the final iterations of the overall campus schemes. The central part of this extraordinarily beautiful site is a National Historic Landmark so the planning context is rich and challenging.

While we are working on an island that is well-known for its isolation and cultural distinctness, it's interesting to note how we were working over the past few days. As we started preparing the presentations, since the students had already started to disperse for the break, we had drawings coming in from Bangladesh, from Hong Kong, from San Francisco, from Texas, from the Chicago suburbs, and, via email, even from across the studio space. Last evening we were even downloading renderings from Chicago to a mobile phone. (But we were downloading to an i-phone because internet access here on St. Helena is spotty. Even mobile phone service is thin. Our ability to transfer drawings around the globe without a thought puts the lack of basic high-speed internet access in places like this into high relief.)

The weather is a gift for us, having left Chicago winter only to find a lovely warm, blessedly humid, 77 degrees. In the place of slush we have live oaks, palmetto trees, fresh shrimp galore, she-crab soup, and the ever-present smells of the marsh and tidal creeks.