More new crap at Brown

Brown's proposed Applied Math Building at Hope and George streets. (Brown)

Brown’s proposed Applied Math Building at Hope and George streets. (Brown)

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.

exterior1The 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!

Brown's Applied Math Building under consttruciton this afternoon. (Photo by David Brussat)

Brown’s Applied Math Building under consttruciton this afternoon. (Photo by David Brussat)

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to More new crap at Brown

  1. Before its recent adventures in excrement, Brown had as enriching a campus as any in the Ivy League. This nursery school farce of bottom feeding sits right across Hope Street from my dad’s house. Blessedly, he has Alzheimer’s and will never comprehend the enormity of the insult. A continuing walk of shame for Brown and its noble heritage.


  2. ethananthony says:

    Thanks to David Brussat for this wonderful invective against mundernity. So refreshing to hear truth forcefully rendered and in plain English! Of course Brown has no tradition of great buildings so this brick hate letter against beauty in architecture is not surprising and it is housing the math department after all so perhaps appropriate. The College seems to have mastered the art of the mundane and dreary. Looks like something from the German Democratic Republic…


  3. That’s right, Eric. Maybe it lacks the grand ambition for the great turd that the Granoff has. That is something it may have going for it. But it’s not enough. It must be damned!


  4. Eric Daum says:

    David, My best friend from third grade lived in one of the lovely Georgian Revival houses that was torn down for this Bulgarian cell block. We spent many hours playing on the floor of his room with his fantastic collection of hand painted knights. But I digress, nostalgia gets caught up in the general horror of the bad move that this building is for the fragile neighborhood between Brown and Fox Point. What is so sad about this project is not that it is aggressively bad like like the Granoff, it’s just painfully dull. It has all the style and grace of a U Haul storage center.


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