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Student Design Project Focuses on Governor’s Mansion

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Students at open house

In fall 2016, five architecture and landscape architecture students registered for a small independent study course with a big project—redesigning and updating the cobblestone forecourt at the entrance of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg.

The students worked with Frances Wolf, First Lady of Pennsylvania, to improve the forecourt, the residence’s only guest entrance. Having been in place since the residence was built fifty years ago, its deterioration has made it difficult for walking.

The students in the course included four landscape architecture students, Xinyi Chen (BLA, 3rd year), Shih-Ting Ma (BLA, 3rd year), Yan Yu (MLA, 2nd year), Jingyin Zhu (BLA, 3rd year), and one architecture student, Amelia Young (BARCH, 5th year). The independent study was co-taught by Kelleann Foster, professor of landscape architecture, associate dean of the College of Arts and Architecture, and director of the Stuckeman School, and Dan Willis, professor of architecture. The students worked together to create design proposals to revamp the entire forecourt, going beyond the initial issue of paving choice.

“The opportunity to work at the Governor’s Residence was exciting! For Penn State students to be able to meet the Governor and First Lady and to be involved in influencing the design of their home is an honor,” said Amelia Young, architecture student participant.

Students presented their work to the First Lady in early spring, when she attended the conclusion of the project presentation in the Stuckeman Family Building. One of the proposals recommends an annual public design competition for a water feature that would reflect the interest in art expressed inside the mansion, bringing that energy to the exterior forecourt. Students also faced the logistical challenges of how different groups of people would interact with the space, including guests, the First Family, security, and staff members.

“The First Lady was very encouraging and appreciated the hard work we put into our projects. It was an honor to meet her and receive suggestions from a real client for a real project, although I was very nervous!” admitted landscape architecture student Xinyi Chen.

The Governor’s Residence will now use the students’ projects as the basis for moving forward with a new and improved forecourt. On April 5, the Governor’s Residence held an open house to thank the students for their work. Attendees included students, their professors, College of Arts and Architecture Dean Barbara Korner, alumni, and local landscape architects. The student designs were displayed in the residence, where the students engaged with guests and answered questions about their unique ideas.

“It was fun to listen to them and see their designs. These are smart designs,” said Frances Wolf at the open house. “They are inspiring, and we would like to take them to the next level. We have the intention to raise the money and to use the courtyard designs as the base for going out to professional landscape architects and saying, ‘Here are some of the ideas that caught our minds and our hearts.’ I can’t say enough about Penn State’s Architecture and Landscape Architecture programs.”

The interest and support of the First Lady provided students with a glimpse into the life of the First Family. Coincidentally, the Wolfs’ daughter is an architect, which, according to Foster, may explain their enthusiasm for helping students advance their studies with real-world experience. By allowing these five students to work together to develop designs and respond to feedback, the First Lady has given them valuable experience in preparing for their careers.

“It is heartening to hear how moved the First Lady is by the students’ design proposals. Their detailed understanding of the issues and creative ideas illustrate the role of good design – providing value and making an impact,” said Foster. 

To view a gallery of images of the designs and related events, visit:’s-mansion.