Penn State Law Building Highlighted by Floating Glass Library
Polshek Partnership creates a focal point
to this campus gateway
Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law Lewis Katz Building is a glass-clad structure designed by New York City-based Polshek Partnership Architects. Photo by Matt Gardner.
How do you .
. . design a sustainable campus centerpiece that takes form
and function cues from both the environment and the place where
students will spend most of their time?
State’s Dickinson School of
its new 114,000-square-foot Lewis Katz Building, a sinuous, glass-clad
structure designed by New York City-based Polshek Partnership Architects.
The focal point of the Lewis Katz Building is its curving, glass-enclosed
H. Laddie Montague Jr. Law Library. The Lewis Katz Building’s
location on an open green space allows the eye-catching building
to serve as a campus gateway. Large glass windows capture valley,
mountain, and arboretum views while maximizing natural light for
sustainability. The Lewis Katz Building is located on Penn State’s
center campus in University Park, Pa., and is seeking LEED certification.
Construction was completed in December 2008.
focal point of the Lewis Katz Building is its curving, glass-enclosed
law library on the second level. Photo by Andrew Burdick/Polshek
The glass law library is the top level of the two-level structure.
The first floor is recessed and steps into the landscape, which has
a slight downhill slope. The library’s form incorporates a
vast amount of glass, while there is sandstone below. The library
appears to float above the ground level. The ground level contains
three 75-person classrooms, a 250-seat auditorium, a mock courtroom,
and a café, all connected by a lounge mixing bowl space. “The
notion is that the library is the roof above the rest of the program,” says
Richard Olcott, FAIA, partner of Polshek Partnership Architects and
lead designer on the Lewis Katz Building.
Law library is the heart of the building
The law library’s
glass windows provide unobstructed views of the open green space,
with Mount Nittany across the valley in one direction and an adjacent
arboretum in another.
Olcott says the design draws from the idea that a law library is
the heart of the legal educational experience. “The law library
is the center of the program, physically and spiritually,” he
explains. “It is the place where students spend much of their
time. The library represents 50 percent of the square footage of
The Lewis Katz Building serves as a campus gateway
and beacon. Photo by Andrew Burdick/Polshek Partnership Architects.
Olcott says that the glass creates a campus backdrop of reflected
sunlight during the day, and at night the glass helps the structure
serve as a beacon of light. “The building sits across the road
from the main body of the campus,” Olcott says. “When
you drive in from the main approach, it’s one of the first
things you see—and, seen in the round, it’s a wonderful
Inside the library is a 300-foot upward circulation ramp
along the south side of the building. The south side is the inner
curve of the building and faces the arboretum. Along the loop are
different types of study carrels. Says Olcott: “Having the
circulation loop back on itself means you can short circuit it—get
from one place to the other without retracing your steps. It is linear
in that you enter at one end by the front desk, then, as you gradually
move up the ramp, you end up at the reading room. You get pretty
far off the ground when you get up to the reading room, which is
nice because you get a long view to the mountain. Then you can go
into the stack area above. It gets more private and quieter the farther
you go into the library.”
Inside the library is a 300-foot upward circulation
ramp along the south side of the building. Along the loop are different
types of study carrels. Photo by Andrew Burdick/Polshek Partnership
The Lewis Katz Building is seeking LEED certification. Sustainable
design elements include local and recycled materials, a planted green
roof, a pervious parking surface, rainwater runoff, operable windows,
individual climate control, and maximum use of daylighting to keep
power use down. “All that glass is put to good use,” Olcott
In addition to housing the law school, the Lewis Katz Building also
is home to Penn State’s School of International Affairs.