In addition to academics, residential life plays an important role in Penn’s undergraduate learning experience.
Before the construction of the Quad in 1894, Penn had maintained just a few small dorms because the majority of students were local residents who commuted to campus.
As Penn began to expand and offer new academic programs, accepting more students from across the country and the world, the University began building more dorms. Additions to the Quad’s complex of buildings were completed in 1929. Designed by the Cope and Stewardson firm of Philadelphia, the late Tudor Gothic style building’s interior was as magnificent as its exterior. The accompanying photo offers a view of a Quad dorm room from 1917.
In the 1970s, Penn’s dorms were transformed from places where students studied and slept into intellectual communities where students lived with faculty, staff, and their families. The arrangement allowed for spontaneous, as well as planned creative, recreational, and social interactions.
The University’s current College House structure, implemented in 1998, offers students an opportunity to participate in dozens of programs that bring residents with similar interests into the same hall. For example, Mask and Wig members can live on the same hall in Riepe College House, and students in the Huntsman Program for International Studies and Business share a floor in Kings Court English College House.
Each College House also offers a wide range of residential programs in areas such as Jewish cultural studies, women in computer science, and language instruction, including Arabic and Mandarin.
The 11 College Houses continue to evolve as intellectual, social, and recreational hubs. Construction on a 12th College House is currently underway. The New College House, scheduled to open in 2016 at 33rd and Chestnut streets, will have a central courtyard that may be used for concerts and other activities.
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online.