State College

Penn State students supply ideas for courtyard at governor’s residence

Penn State architecture and landscape architecture students presented ideas for improvements to the courtyard at the governor’s mansion to first lady Frances Wolf.
Penn State architecture and landscape architecture students presented ideas for improvements to the courtyard at the governor’s mansion to first lady Frances Wolf. Photo provided

There’s nothing wrong with showing off every once in a while. This holds true if you are but a humble university student or the first lady of Pennsylvania.

To address the deteriorating conditions of the cobblestone courtyard at the governor’s residence, Frances Wolf turned to five up-and-comers at Penn State to develop design possibilities for an upgrade.

“They were so kind, so good and so excited about the project,” Wolf said.

Grout has that effect on people. Unfortunately, nearly 50 years of Pennsylvania weather has eroded most of the stuff away, leaving behind loose cobblestones and walking conditions that are unsuitable for heels or anyone with feet, really.

They were so kind, so good and so excited about the project.

Frances Wolf

A preservation committee made up of architects, interior designers and historians came together to explore potential solutions — and one of them thought of Dan Willis.

Willis is a tenured professor in Penn State’s department of architecture, a position that gives him ready access to two vital commodities — a vast body of young talent and Kelleann Foster, director of the Stuckeman School.

Together, they were able to assemble a group of five students who took on the courtyard conundrum as an elective last fall, baited by the lure of a little real-world experience.

“It’s always great when students sort of have a real project or a real client,” Willis said.

The task of servicing this particular client — who is about as real as it gets — fell to architecture student Amelia Young and landscape architecture majors Yan Yu, Xinyi Chen, Coco Ma and Amanda Zhu.

To help them develop their designs, the group toured the residence and spoke with staff to gain a better understanding of how practical considerations like security would have to be incorporated into their plans.

There is such a strong talent pool at Penn State and in this department particularly.

Frances Wolf

The trick was balancing the historical import of the governorship with the golden opportunity to repurpose the courtyard into a place that was a little more public friendly.

“They have this huge space in front of the mansion that they’re not able to utilize to its fullest potential,” Young said.

The best of their final ideas managed to balance the original Georgian-style architecture with increased accessibility and ground-based LED lights. Wolf was thrilled with the blend of innovation and tradition that the students brought to the presentation table.

“They provided for us and me a whole new way of thinking about the courtyard,” Wolf said.

The “thinking” phase of the proceedings is expected to last a while longer — there’s still a fair amount of private fundraising to be done — but Wolf hopes to use what the students presented as the basis for further conversation.

“There is such a strong talent pool at Penn State and in this department particularly.” Wolf said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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