Wharts and All: Blogging the Full-Time MBA Program at the Wharton School

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Huntsman Hall: The Rat Race Starts with a Maze [Edit 1]

"Architecture is the art of how to waste space." --Philip Johnson quoted in the New York Times

The Wharton MBA rat race begins and ends in the maze that students call Hunstman Hall. I call it a maze because the layout of this building confuses new visitors. I imagine that the architects return to Huntsman Hall every fall to giggle themselves silly as gaggle after gaggle of new students attempts, in vain, to go where it's supposed to be going. The place is less amazing than it is a maze.

For example, there's a subterranean 4,000-square-foot conversation/lounge pit (the Patty and Jay H. Baker Forum) that's protected from the large, sloping Walnut Street entrance ramp by a curving, floor-to-ceiling red stone wall that forces entering traffic to veer left or right. The wall encloses and protects the sanctity of the pit and renders it cozy by serving as a baffle. Groups entering from Walnut Street hit the wall, divide, and gradually sift into the pit. This is good. But the baffle function that works so well for entering traffic serves to confuse exiting traffic. From my vantage point in the pit, I saw a number of newly admitted members of the class of 2007 wedge themselves between the curved wall and the staircase that it hides in an attempt to get to the entrance ramp.

The architects attempted to create a building that serves both graduate MBA students and undergraduate business students by separating the traffic flow of these two populations, but what they ended up with is a building that suffers from annoying traffic flow problems and that ultimately serves each population less well. For example: MBA students who use the despicable commercial-cafe-that-must-not-be-named can only get to the MBA lounge by a long, circuitous loop out into the hallway and around to the MBA lounge entry on the mezzanine above the Walnut Street entrance. MBA students don't have much patience for these architectural shenanigans so they use a silly little door behind the cafe's cashier to move between the two spaces. Whose brilliant idea was that?

In truth, it doesn't appear that anybody had any brilliant ideas when it came to traffic flow. The high-traffic areas feel cramped during the busier times of the day, the elevators are slow, and the escalators are not wide enough for students in a rush to pass the fatasses who can't be arsed to walk up stairs that move.

And the masses of people! Huntsman Hall is packed full of people on a normal class day. There are just too many people in the damned place, which leads me to believe that it may be functioning as a swing space for business-like classes as other areas around campus undergo renovation.

So much for traffic. How about the rest of the building?

It's not that erecting showy, state-of-the-art buildings guarantees more or better students; rather, schools have acknowledged that the new facilities are required to keep attracting any students at all. (source)

The building was designed to be showy. It accomplishes that task marvelously and (thankfully) quite a bit more tastefully than if it had been named Trump Hall. Its wooden, brick and glass interiors scream "modern capitalists are being minted here!"

And so we come full circle: Hunstman Hall is itself Wharton's latest weapon in the rat race between schools to hook and land a higher percentage of their admitted applicants. The maze is both a means and an end.

Edit 1: Rewrote first two paragraphs to render them less unintelligible.


Blogger bskewl said...

Wrote one reader: "what was the most annoying was that some elevators went to certain floors, and others didn't. i had a hard time finding the admissions office when I went"

2/23/2005 01:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw the Huntsmen Hall on my visit to Penn. It definitely has all the bells and whistles. Multimedia classrooms, huge computer access at all nooks and corners, swanky lecture theaters, a hip gym, the famous pub. I’ve heard that among other things they have the Carbon-dioxide sensors in each room; should the oxygen level go below the limit, it will provide the additional oxygen inflow(almost as good as a caffeine IV drip...). and self-cleaning bathroom: they have been designed so that you can close the bathroom for cleaning, and automatically (read: no human interaction) spray sanitize and deodorize every surface in the bathroom, and dry it within 10 minutes. Is this true???

2/23/2005 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second the comment about the elevators. When I visited for my interview, I felt very stupid when I took the wrong elevator and wound up on a floor that I *thought* was the correct floor, but wasn't.

2/23/2005 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger FMGirl said...

re: the elevators
there's a set that go up to faculty and administrative (admissions) offices and two sets for just the classrooms. I'm guessing they wanted to seperate the faculty and student elevators so the faculty weren't adversely affected by student traffic. It is confusing at first. But you'll get the hang of it in no time.

2/23/2005 03:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a current undergraduate student at Penn (Wharton and Engineering). I am actually quite puzzled by all the posts about Huntsman Hall being confusing and poorly designed. While I personally like the architecture of the building, I can understand how someone could feel it is a bit "gaudy". However, last year as a freshman, my friends and I had become completely familiar with the building after only about one or two weeks. I think that maybe after spending more time actually using Huntsman Hall, you will appreciate its design and layout much more.

2/23/2005 09:04:00 PM  
Blogger bskewl said...

Is two-three weeks to learn the layout of a building perhaps a tad too long? Is the building unecessarily confusing?

I don't imagine that I'll have any problems getting around it after I'm acclimated, but why put people through the pain in the first place?

2/23/2005 09:28:00 PM  
Blogger Aileen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2/24/2005 01:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Zach he must stop kicking sand in the face of Wharton.

2/24/2005 06:17:00 AM  
Blogger bskewl said...

The Zach the last thing he wants to do is hurt his future alma mater, but he is compelled to tell it as he does see it in the hopes that she will say, "Zach, you are right. I shall change my ways."

2/24/2005 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

As you might have seen in Follies, we have this nice building and then don't even have paper towel dispensers in the restrooms that work worth a damn. Annoying, really. And the fancy multimedia classrooms? Only when you get a faculty member that really knows how to make the system fly is it good. And those study rooms: always booked. Pointless, really. And the fact that tons of non-Wharton students inhabit the building. Annoying.

2/25/2005 11:59:00 AM  
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