Changing Skyline: At Pennovation, UPenn creates a lab for the social media age


Changing skyline: at pennovation, upenn creates a lab for the social media age

It probably didn’t seem like a lucky break at the time, but Marc Kushner and Matthias Hollwich had the good fortune to start their architecture firm, HWKN, in 2007, at the exact moment the economy was imploding. Eager to keep busy, they sought refuge on the internet and put together a website aimed at struggling young architects like themselves, with posts about jobs and design projects.

The site, Architizer, is now a must-read for professionals – a Facebook for architects – as well as a valuable media brand that has spun off several side businesses. As the construction industry revived, Hollwich and Kushner realized they could incorporate what they’d learned as internet entrepreneurs into their architecture.

Their savvy understanding of the intersection between design, branding, media, and social networking is now on full display at the Pennovation Center, the science-centric incubator space at Penn’s new research campus on the Schuylkill riverfront. The building started out as a standard-issue, concrete-frame factory, the kind you see in varying states of decay across Philadelphia’s old industrial zones. But with a few deft moves, HWKN and its collaborators have given it a unique, high-profile identity, easily visible from I-76 and Penn’s medical campus, as well as the popular Schuylkill River Trail.

Factory-chic has been popular in America for years, so it’s not unusual to see manufacturing buildings repurposed as offices or apartments. In fact, loft spaces have become so mainstream that developers often pile on the corporate comforts, obscuring the rough beauty that made them such evocative spaces in the first place. […]