How Did a School of Design Land $10M for Energy Policy Work?

You don’t see a lot of energy policy think tanks housed alongside fine arts and architecture departments. But a private-equity investor and alum of UPenn just made a $10 million gift to its school of design to do just that. 

Scott Kleinman's gift will establish the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy within PennDesign, the University of Pennsylvania's design school. The reason such a center fits in the context of the school has a lot to do with the relationship between theory and practice as we look for energy solutions, but is also connected to one particular professor.

When Kleinman, an investor at New York’s Apollo Global Management firm, approached his alma mater’s development department to discuss making a donation that would have a big impact, they pointed him to Mark Alan Hughes, professor at PennDesign. The two hit it off, Hughes told the Inquirer, and the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy was eventually born, established with a $10 million gift from the donor and his wife Wendy. It's charged with developing clearly articulated energy policy and accelerating research that spans engineering, arts, science, business and law.

Hughes will direct the center, and brings his experience and interest in finding practical energy solutions for cities and end users. He was the city of Philadelphia’s first director of sustainability, former adviser to the mayor, and the architect of the city’s sustainability plan, called Greenworks. Hughes has developed quite a reputation in the area for his work to make the city a leader in energy and building efficiency. 

For one, he’s a lead investigator at the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation, a project happening at the Philadelphia Navy Yard that received $159 million in federal funding to create a “living laboratory” for energy savings solutions in new and old buildings. 

In an interview about that project, Hughes describes the challenge of creating energy efficient buildings, which involves a complex combination of factors and disciplines, including architecture and design, engineering, law and, finally, the behavior of the people inhabiting them: “The whole point of the thing is to try to get engineers, architects, policy developers and behavioral scientists to all work together.”

While he’s referring to the CBEI, that spirit also fits the goals of the new PennDesign center. The center will be focused on the crossover between theory and practice, and getting ideas about energy policy to actually work, engaging with builders and industry to find sensible solutions. The center aims to bring together multiple disciplines at the university and beyond to pull this off.

PennDesign as a whole has similar goals of incorporating research, practice and policy, with departments in architecture and fine arts, but also city and regional planning and urban spatial analytics. It’s as interested in city design and sustainability as it is visual arts. 

Kleinman said in a statement that his motivation is all about better energy policy, but with consideration for economic and technological growth. Kleinman, 41, is a partner dealing in private equity at Apollo, a Wall Street firm that specializes in leveraged buyouts. He graduated from UPenn in 1994 with degrees in business and Russian studies. 

As is so often the case with these big university gifts, it seems a commitment to collaboration, and one killer faculty member, made all the difference.