Brown apparently regrets its beauty and wants to be among the ugliest schools in the Ivy League. This is the only conclusion that comports with the fact of what it builds on campus. The latest is the Applied Math Building at the corner of Hope and George. For months it had no publicity regarding what the building would look like. Now it is actually being built, well along, and a source outside the institution has provided me a rendering. It is on top. I drove by and shot the image at the bottom this afternoon.
The designer is Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, of New York City, along with the Architecture Research Office (it may be part of the same firm; it doesn’t say). Can it possibly be proud of this building? I suspect not. Pride no longer is a prominent feature of architecture.
Apparently this is what Brown thinks the neighborhood will put up with. Pathetic. What is it they say about dropping the big smelly in one’s own nest? This is what Brown has got used to doing. There is a sort of embrace-your-inner-shithouse thing going on. It is not unique to Brown. Maybe the Semiotics Department should take a look.
Four beautiful old houses will be torn down to make way for Brown’s new engineering building. Their demolition forces Brown to build a new math building for refugees from the razed houses. Brown’s president apparently cares not a farthing about the university’s budget, or about helping the city, or about whether future alumni will become donors based on their fond memories of these formative years in their lives. She doesn’t care about forming their lives in the tradition of great schools. Oh well.
The only building Brown has built lately that fits into its historic setting is the Nelson Fitness Center, in the Athletic Quadrangle farther north on Hope. The center’s primary donor, entrepreneur Jonathan Nelson, of Providence, told Brown’s former president Ruth Simmons that he would not pay for the design initially proposed – a typical modernist blotch. Simmons dug in her heels, claiming she had no influence over the facilities apparat. Nelson dug in his own heels, called her bluff (I hope it was a bluff!) and won out. Brown switched from the New York firm of SHoP (its name says it all) to the New York firm of RAMSA, founded by Robert A.M. Stern, whose talented partner Gary Brewer designed the building.
Does Brown have a death wish? Why aren’t buildings like the applied math plug-ugly illegal? Actually, in Providence they are, but, first, in the school’s institutional zone Brown is allowed to shoot itself in the foot, and, second, the law that protects historical character here is mainly honored in the breach. Time to bring back the dunking stool!