Overlook Pavilion at Penn State University University Park, Pennsylvania | Overlook Pavilion at Penn State   |   University Park, Pennsylvania   |   1,300 SF   |   LEED Silver Certified

Penn State’s arboretum includes thirty-five acres of campus property dedicated to preserving the beauty and ecological functions of vegetated landscapes in an increasingly urbanized environment. For a long time this conscientious effort went largely unexplained to the public. The Overlook Pavilion addressed this challenge by dramatically enhancing the interaction between the campus, the community, and the environment.

Undoing The Damage

We often don’t notice the subtle ways our activity changes the environment. However, every now and then a seemingly small decision will have an amplified impact for our neighbors down the road.

Residents in the neighborhoods adjacent to Penn State’s favorite parking lot for pregame tailgating may not have understood why their neighborhood flooded every time it rained. But once Penn State realized that this impermeable surface covering the aquifer recharge zone was causing drainage issues in surrounding areas as well, they decided to make their next building better than neutral or “net zero.” They decided to make it restorative.

Welcome To The Future

The Overlook Pavilion would be the welcoming moment not only for the botanical gardens experience to the south but also for the inspiring watershed restoration to the north. “It’s about having a gracious reception,” said Principal in Charge Bob Shemwell.

By bringing the community onto the campus to see the school’s commitment to community and environmental stewardship, Penn State would multiply the positive impact of their investment.

Nature’s Front Porch

The design had to account for both the watershed and the important communal space for pregame festivity. A permanent tent-style space has replaced the parking lot as a favorite tailgating spot. The pavilion’s large front porch adds to the recreational posture of the project, inviting all who pass through to “hang out” and enjoy the view looking out over the ridge of the watershed.

Sustainable building practices were obviously essential, even in the relatively small 1,900-SF structure. Using ground source heat pumps allowed for efficient and quiet HVAC operation, and ample shade structures maximized the usable outdoor space, further reducing the need for indoor conditioning. The LEED Silver building’s local and recycled materials also help it to blend with its surroundings, furthering the narrative of restoration in the midst of progress.

The pavilion has become a favorite spot on campus. It is booked three years out for weddings and events, and the tailgating tradition continues to thrive. The watershed restoration has furthered the goal of the entire garden system, bringing function and beauty into an inviting balance.

Architects must constantly walk the line between over- or under-contextualizing a building to support its strength as a unique entity within its environment. Somewhere between total disregard to surroundings and cliché facsimiles of geologic or biologic imagery, a good architect can find a project’s meaning without being overt. Such sought-after balance has been gracefully achieved by Overland Partners.
Sean Burkholder Texas Architect
  • ASLA-Pennsylvania Chapter Honor Award 2011
  • AIA San Antonio Design Award 2010
  • TSA Design Award 2010
  • Texas Architect, “Overlook Pavilion,” September 2010
  • World Architecture News, “Overlooked But Not to be Forgotten,” August 2010