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Pennsylvania State University School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University Park, PA, United States

Thursday 30 Dec 2010

A creative hub for budding architects

Photographs by Jeffrey Totaro / Esto Photography 
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The redesigned SALA is a sustainable building that encourages multi-disciplinary creativity 

The School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at Pennsylvania State University is the University’s first major comprehensive attempt at sustainable design, and Penn State’s first project to involve a process for public participation and feedback. Nearly 100 students, faculty, staff and community stakeholders collaborated with Overland Partners to ensure a successful outcome.

Achieving consensus among the department heads, dean and faculty about the project’s mission was transformational, one of the few times that the two departments had agreed to common aspirations. The design that emerged from the charrette has transformed the School’s culture and brings new life into a former 'back-of-house' area of the campus.

It integrated major pedestrian ways and access to the adjacent Hort Woods in the creation of building and landscape. Faculty offices adjoin social areas to promote interaction. Studios are linked by 'crit mezzanines' that function at the School’s centre, physically and symbolically. Large, open design studios dominate the interior, blend disciplines and allow for broader creative thinking.

Designed to be a centre of activity and accessible 24 hours a day, the new SALA provides not only a world class facility for its curriculum, but also created a new stage for events and achieved a place of vibrancy for the entire sub-campus area.

Completed in association with WTW Architects, the award-winning School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture is LEED Gold Certified. In its first year of operation, the SALA realized over 46% in energy savings (when compared against other new buildings on the campus).


Transforming the culture of the school and relationship to the rest of the University was critical to the success of the Penn State School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Formerly housed in nearly windowless buildings out of the mainstream of the University, departments were separated by locked doors and deep suspicion. Faculty were segregated into random and isolated offices. The new site overlays major campus pedestrian patterns. The design routes pedestrians through the public areas of the building including display gallery and jury spaces. Large windows broadcast the creative vitality within to the larger university. Exterior amphitheatre and teaching spaces create a connection between classes and passersby. Flexible studio spaces foster a multi-disciplinary approach to design. This open format promotes collaboration between disciplines and class levels. Critique and lecture areas are arrayed along an open mezzanine visible from all the studio areas; encouraging learning by seeing other students' work and presentations. Media and display areas are woven throughout the building to inspire and cross-pollinate ideas within the school. Faculty are aggregated around social spaces near studios to promote interaction between professors and students. The new building manifests the school’s stated goals. Various 'green' aspects of building encourage behaviour change by directly involving occupants in the management of the building via individual control of ventilation, ongoing monitoring of energy use and recycling/waste management. It was the first School of Architecture in the United States to achieve a prestigious LEED Gold rating and helped the school get its first National Top Ten rating.


Sustainable. Transformational. Achieving LEED Gold at a construction cost 20% below other new non-LEED buildings on campus, the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture has set a precedent for future Penn State projects. With that accomplishment, the building has been able to serve as a teaching tool for aspiring architects to learn the benefits and opportunities in sustainable design. More than a LEED rating, this project promotes sustainability in the way it was created. 'Green' building strategies are readily apparent and used as references by students and faculty alike, allowing for architecture and landscape architecture students to interact and learn from each other. A rooftop weather station measures temperature, humidity and air quality allowing the building to be conditioned at any mix between 100% natural and 100% mechanical, and studios receive balanced light from perimeter windows on one side and clerestories above the mezzanine on the other. Virtually all occupied spaces enjoy natural ventilation and daylighting. Other sustainable strategies include the use of recycled copper and campus standard brick, which were long-lived, low-maintenance appropriate materials available nearby. More than 85% of the building’s materials came from regional sources and more than 35% met recycled content standards. SALA realized a 46% reduction in energy use when captured against its first year and currently is the least expensive facility on campus to operate.


While under design, the building received one of the largest personal gifts ever given to the University. But perhaps a better indication of its success was that after completion the building received an endowment gift that was larger than the construction cost. The building was the first in the entire Penn State University System (8 campuses) to receive a LEED rating. The LEED Gold Certification exceeded the project goals. The building had a very modest budget and was built for 20% less (per square foot) than the other new buildings on campus. Despite costing less, the building is 40% more efficient than the other new buildings built on campus at the same time. After completion the school improved recruitment of targeted students by over 20%. They have also reported that it has radically increased their capability to recruit and retain faculty. The new space fosters multi-disciplinary collaboration and has transformed the school’s educational pedagogy. During their first full year of occupation of the new building, the school received their first Top Ten rating.

Key Facts

Status Completed
Value 0(m€)
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Overland Partners | Architects

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