Responding to COVID-19: Spring 2022

Dear Weitzman Community,

Thank you for making the first half of the fall semester a success. Whether you’re among those who have safely returned to campus, or who are participating in classes and studios online, or a combination of the two, I’m grateful for your willingness to adapt. Over the past weeks, I’ve been heartened to see faculty and students engaged in impassioned discussions in studio and reviews—both online and in Meyerson Hall—and fine arts students continuing their studio work in Morgan Hall and the Franklin Annex. Meanwhile, as we celebrate the completion of the Weitzman Robotics Lab and the Architectural Conservation Lab, the final phases of construction on Weitzman Plaza are underway. The Weitzman Plaza and Steps will bring our Meyerson, Morgan, and Fisher facilities closer together and improve access to the heart of the campus. Stay tuned for more news about our campus neighborhood.

I’m sure that you are eager to know what the spring semester will look like at Penn and at Weitzman. At the University level, the President and Provost have announced that the semester will begin a week later on January 20th, and there will be a condensed spring break. This will enable us to end the semester on time. In addition, increased COVID-19 testing will be available on campus.

At Weitzman, our overarching goal for spring is unchanged from fall: protecting the health and safety of students, faculty and staff, while carrying out the educational, research, and community engagement missions of our school. Over the past seven months, we have all learned to live with a certain degree of uncertainty that has become the hallmark of the coronavirus pandemic. While we can’t know for certain what the future holds, below is a summary of what we are planning at this time. 

A Continued Hybrid Experience in Spring

As we did for the Fall 2020 semester, each department chair has worked closely with her or his faculty to map out plans and curricula for the spring 2021 semester that adapt to the constraints posed by the pandemic. These plans reflect invaluable student feedback and many lessons learned from an additional semester of teaching remotely.  

For the most part, each department will use an approach that is very similar to that of the fall semester; however, most departments plan to increase the number of in-person teaching experiences to the extent permitted by public health guidelines and University regulations.  Because of the differences in pedagogy among the disciplines, the approaches for specific programs will vary, including the degree to which courses are taught remotely, their use of Weitzman studios, labs, and other on-campus resources, and plans to continue classes in the summer semesters. 

This is a very brief summary of each department’s approach; your department will have more detailed information to share with you.

  • Architecture: As in the fall, most courses and electives will be taught remotely. Studios will meet once or twice a week in person according to staggered schedules, and students will adhere to social distancing guidelines. 
  • City and Regional Planning & MUSA: Most planning courses and studios will be taught online except for a hybrid second-year studio and, possibly, the Public Realm Studio. The first-year workshop courses will likely by hybrid, though instructors will have the option to teach remotely.    
  • Fine Arts: The Department will continue the current hybrid model, with most courses conducted virtually and opportunities for students to work in their studios according to established protocols. There will be limited opportunities for faculty to conduct studio visits, following the guidelines in the Weitzman compact, as mutually agreed upon by both the student and the faculty member.  
  • Historic Preservation: The spring 2021 semester will look much like the fall; however, additional courses, apart from studio, will offer a regular in-person component, and some remote courses will also have hands-on laboratories.  
  • Landscape Architecture: In the spring, the Department will offer a full suite of studios (501, 601 and 702) that combine virtual and in-person teaching. In addition to these studios, Workshop 1 and 3 will also be taught through a combination of in-person and virtual formats. Media and Theory 2 will be offered exclusively on-line. Most elective courses will be taught online, at the discretion of the instructor.  

Labs and Other Technical Resources

As in the fall semester, in the spring students will have access to the Fabrication Lab, the Robotics Lab, the Architectural Archives, and at least one computer lab in Meyerson Hall and one in Addams Hall on a limited basis, with significantly reduced seating and, in some cases, contactless activity. As in the fall, students will not be permitted to enter the Fab Lab. Instead, they will submit digital files for the CNC, Laser Cutter, or 3d Powder Printer to the staff, who will then run the file and leave the material or model in Meyerson room 413 for the students to retrieve. (Visit the Fab Lab’s website for details.) Students who are not in Philadelphia and therefore unable to visit the Fab Lab in person will be provided alternative resources.  The Kleinman Center for Energy Policy will continue to operate mostly remotely. 

Fine Arts students can continue to borrow photography equipment and use the black and white darkroom in Addams Hall in the spring. Students enrolled in the new Master of Science in Design in Robotics and Autonomous Systems program will continue to have access to the Robotics Lab for limited, prescribed times.  

International Students

To our international students, I extend a special thank you for your patience and perseverance these past weeks and months. I understand that many of you are still having difficulty obtaining visas to travel to the U.S. I encourage you to continue working with the Office of Student Services or your ISSS advisor. Although the issuing of visas is outside of the University’s control, the Weitzman School is working closely with ISSS through this process. I truly appreciate your tireless efforts to join us in Philadelphia, and I regret that the pandemic and political issues have made the process of obtaining a visa so much more difficult.

If you find you are unable to come to Philadelphia due to visa challenges or for other reasons, each department is ready to facilitate your online participation in all courses and studios. I recognize that time zone differences can pose an additional challenge, so the faculty will continue to make every effort to support your full participation in the Weitzman community and record classes and meetings whenever feasible. 

Those of us in the design and planning professions have dedicated considerable time and energy to increasing the resilience of our coastal cities and vulnerable communities in the face of climate change—and there remains much to be done. Those of us in the fine arts and preservation fields have increased our understanding of what we remember publicly and how. But it’s human resilience, in the face of racism, sexism, and xenophobia, that I’m concerned about most today. Take care of yourself, act with compassion, and stay safe. Thank you again for rising to meet the myriad challenges of this moment. 

Very truly yours,