Leonhard Commons

Feb 4, 2022 | Projects, Uncategorized

Author: Alia Akkam

Gensler Philadelphia uses student feedback to create a collaborative environment for the Penn State University’s College of Engineering


Penn State University’s well-regarded College of Engineering, on the west side of campus, in University Park, “was lacking in social, collaborative, and study space,” points out Jill Sirota, associate at Gensler Philadelphia.

But after the school’s master plan revealed that a portion of the first floor in the Leonhard Building, home to the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, could solve this problem, Sirota and her team were tasked with reimagining it as the Leonhard Building Knowledge Commons.

To help establish a facility that brings together various work, presentation, and lounge areas while “fostering community, diversity, and creative processes,” as she puts it, students at the College of Engineering themselves were asked to partake in design development. One group, for example, “tested a selection of chairs for inclusion. Their feedback was more detailed than what we typically receive from clients; they provided a thorough analysis and recommendations for us to implement,” says Sirota.

Even the use of durable and sustainable materials, like the LVT flooring that designates circulation and divides the gathering hub from the computer zone, align with the university’s ethos. “The overall architectural finishes are a warm and inviting neutral palette that drew some inspiration from the school’s colors,” adds Sirota, referencing Penn State’s signature blue and white hues.

Soaring heights, what Sirota deems “a rare opportunity,” was one of her favorite aspects of the project, the double-height nature “allowing us to expose the existing structure and layer in different elements, including a mesh ceiling and turf panels. This design aspect ties back to the industrial design programs that utilize the Leonhard Building and the Knowledge Commons,” she explains. “The turf panels not only add visual interest but they help with sound attenuation—critical in a high-traffic environment where students are working and socializing.”