Carving out quiet spaces on a bustling and busy campus

Penn’s campus offers a multitude of indoor and outdoor places to find quiet and solitude.

Education Commons
The Education Commons at Franklin Field, a 7,000-square foot mezzanine study space in the George A. Weiss Pavilion, is accessible to anyone with a PennCard.

Despite the busy pace of University life, Penn’s campus offers a multitude of places and ways to retreat and find quiet and solitude when it is desired, whether during a walk across campus, a lunch break, or an intentional period of brief meditation.

University Architect David Hollenberg says that although he and others involved in creating buildings and landscapes on campus do not explicitly design places for solitude—instead, they focus more on spaces in which community members can come together and interact—there is no shortage of serene locales.

Some of his favorites include:

·       Shakespeare Garden, adjacent to the Fisher Fine Arts Library. “You’re in the fray but completely out of the fray,” he says. “Just 10 feet away is College Green; there’s a riot of activity when classes change but nonetheless that garden is a place of repose.”

·       Memorial Garden between Van Pelt and the ARCH.

·        James G. Kaskey Memorial Park, more commonly known as the BioPond. “It’s its own little ecosystem, depending on which bench you pick, which way you face," he says. 

·       Edward W. Kane Park, between the Penn Museum and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “This was designed to be a quiet place of refuge for people visiting the hospital and I think it is that,” he says. “When you’re in there, it’s a calming place, as public as it is.”

·       “A single solitary bench on the northwest corner of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. It’s a lovely high style and quite comfortable. Although it looks out on Walnut Street, it’s set back so it’s relatively quiet.”

Indoors, Hollenberg cited the Education Commons built into Franklin Field, accessible to anyone with a PennCard, as an underutilized place for quiet study, as well as the lobbies of Houston Hall, Levin, and the ARCH.

Ashlee Halbritter, director of Campus Health in Student Health Service, says she encourages staff, faculty, and students alike to seek a change of scenery when they need to refocus, whether it’s with a walk to Penn Park or the BioPond, or even just a short guided meditation on a website like Calm.com that displays relaxing images and sounds of nature.

“If I’m having a frustrating day or trying to solve a problem and start to feel I’m going around in circles, I can often find a lot of clarity just by taking a little break,” she says.

Sandi Herman, a health and wellness educator for Campus Health, says incorporating mindfulness and meditation into the workday can be as simple as eating lunch without music, a book, or a screen, or just taking a walk.

“I encourage people to do walking meditations, turning your focus to your breath or your steps and your awareness to the present moment,” Herman says. “I love walking around Locust Walk, looking at the beautiful trees, buildings, and architecture. Taking in everything that is around, you can be part of the meditation. It’s not about shutting things out, it’s about allowing them to settle and let them be.”

Herman offers a monthly guided meditation for faculty and staff through the Division of Human Resources. The next one is Friday, Dec. 16.

Originally published on .