"Reinvigorated" ARCH, A New Hub For Student Life at Penn

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On Thursday, Feb. 6, the University of Pennsylvania celebrated the re-opening of the ARCH, Penn’s Arts, Research, and Culture House. The event marked the completion of a $24.5 million renovation transforming the historic building on Locust Walk. Penn President Amy Gutmann called the facility “a welcoming and central hub for all students to meet and share ideas…The new ARCH celebrates the best of the building’s remarkable history while embracing technology and design.”

Built in 1928 to house the Christian Association, the building was purchased by the University in 1999 and is listed in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The ARCH renovation project was designed by SaylorGregg Architects, with Torcon as Construction Manager. As part of the restoration, the original features of the late-Gothic Revival building were carefully preserved and restored, including the building's wood wall paneling and grand stairway, four terracotta chimneys, limestone carvings and ornamental plasterwork, leaded windows and slate roof.

As part of the University’s commitment to sustainability, the ARCH building is aiming for LEED silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The new ARCH preserved its old physical exterior as well as most of the previous floor plan. The building now boasts more lounge and study places as well as renovated spaces for the three cultural centers the ARCH houses.

The ground floor has been transformed into a hub for the three cultural centers: La Casa Latina, Makuu: The Black Cultural Center and the Pan-Asian American Community House. Each center has its own lounge and offices. In front of the offices is more lounge and study space that allows students to flow and mingle across a new open-plan "living room" with built-in banquette seating and glassed-in suites and high ceilings providing generous light. A new staircase was added down to an entrance on the ground floor for easier access to the cultural centers.

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The first floor is home to a large multipurpose room that can be used for seminars or speaker events, or as a lounge if there are no planned events. The three conference rooms feature up-to-date technology and videoconferencing capabilities. Among the highlights is a new café, featuring Mexican-American cuisine from Chicago Chef Rick Bayless.

A second-floor auditorium equipped with interactive digital and multi-media capabilities functions as a classroom for large lecture courses for as many as 150 students. A flexible seating system in the auditorium enables its transformation into a performance space, banquet hall or venue for talks by scholars. The auditorium has been outfitted with new lighting and acoustics.

The third floor also has a room specifically designed for dance or theater rehearsal, with hardwood floor and a mirrored wall.

The building has also been upgraded with an A/C system, which it previously did not have, as well as with a better heating system and more IT support.

Torcon uses a BIM Construction-based Approach to Renovating the ARCH Building

Although not required by contract, Torcon implemented the use of BIM construction for MEP coordination on the ARCH renovation project. This approach was particularly valuable given the age of the building, materials of construction, the extent of the changes, and the new systems and technologies being introduced.

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The inherent architectural style and masonry construction of the ARCH building provided no room for vertical utility chases, which are essential to modern buildings. Fitting ductwork, sprinkler lines, and hydronic piping was difficult, but BIM helped facilitate the process. The design team was forced to work from original documentation and had limited access behind walls and above ceilings. Floor plans also did not line up, which resulted in different utility paths on every floor. Chases had to be cut into the existing structure, floor openings reinforced, and 4-inch walls of masonry had to be channeled open for ductwork and piping.

Space for mechanical rooms was tight, but the model Torcon used was accurate to 1/8-inch. All required clearances for turning valves, opening access doors and performing regular maintenance were added to the model and accounted for in the installation of the systems. Without BIM, the serviceability of the ARCH building would have been difficult over the life of the building. Torcon and the design team were also able to collaboratively use BIM to resolve design issues and RFI’s in real time at weekly project meetings, which allowed the team to maintain an aggressive schedule. The use of BIM allowed work to proceed smoothly in the field by providing answers to subcontractor questions before any work was impacted.

For more on our BIM  construction capabilities, check out Torcon's page on BIM Technology.