Right as you get off the Schuylkill Expressway at the University Ave exit in West Philly, there's this big, metal . . . structure there, dominating the overpasses and underpasses and passes around it. It doesn't seem to make any sense. You can see through it, at least in parts, and from the side you can make out towers up on top that look like smallish nuclear cooling towers that appear to have some sort of mist filtering down from them; in fact, from the side, the whole thing looks like one big ocean liner run aground off the Schuylkill River. When you get up close, as I did, sneaking past the grounds crew, who didn't really care about me, and into the baseball park behind the structure to get a good look, it confirms that what you're looking at is something industrial, but it still doesn't answer a lot of questions.
But there is an answer. Apparently this beached ship has the very creative name Module 7, and the University of Pennsylvania built it in 2000 to serve as a chilled water plant. I'm not really sure what a chilled water plant is or what it does--chill water, maybe?--but lots of universities have them, and some even teach courses on them (because if you've got one, why not teach a course on it?). It wasn't enough, however, for Penn to have a run-of-the-mill chilled water plant. Oh no, theirs had to be stylistically, uh, weird:
The screen wall around the chiller plant celebrates the industrial nature of the structure while giving it a distinct identity. The corrugated perforated stainless steel screen is a shimmering, silvery object by day, revealing the rooftop cooling towers above. By night the building becomes a translucent glowing object, partially revealing the equipment within. As a gateway to the campus, this major element of infrastructure is a memorable, elegant form, set in a vibrant green landscape.
Link. Leers Weinzapfel, the architects of this enigma, also designed the adjacent baseball field.
Previously on TheGoodReverend's Tour of Philly . . .
Indexed by tags travel, tour, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, plant, utility, structure, Module 7.