Brown attacks College Hill

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Proposed new Engineering School building at Brown. (KieranTimberlake)

Four excellent old houses disappeared, poof!, from the Brown campus in recent weeks. In “New campus for Brown engineering?” I protested their proposed demise in a column in 2014. Now the design for what is to replace them has been released, a typically tedious assemblage by the Philadelphia firm of Justin Timberlake – oops, I mean KieranTimberlake (don’t forget, no space between the two names).

It is predictably boring but not as bad as it could have been. Brown has bought into modern architecture’s founding mistake, designing a building that is supposed to look like a machine. That was the Zeitgeist a century ago, with architects figuring that because the Machine Age had begun (actually, architecture was behind the curve on this by a couple hundred years or so, thankfully), buildings should be designed to look like machines. There was never any good reason for this. A building that looks like a machine does not, by dint of that, necessarily have the efficiency of a machine, and most do not. Architecture traded real beauty for the mere metaphor of efficiency. What they have now is ugliness, which is why so few people like them.

It is no surprise that Brown University has based so much of its campus architecture on such a fallacy over the past half a century. The profession of architecture as a whole has not had the wit to see the fallacy either. And it is even less of a surprise that engineers, many of whom make a living trying to ensure that architects’ errors do not fall down, would continue to accept the sloppy seconds from the plates of the architects. More fools they.

Just compare the buildings that are going up at Brown (with the exception of its new fitness center, of all places) to the buildings they are taking down to make way for this folly. The four buildings newly eradicated from College Hill, below, are good examples:





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The final shot, with the current engineering campus to the left, features Barus & Holley Hall, which should have been torn down to accommodate the new engineering building. But Brown just spent millions updating that piece of junk. Such are its priorities, sunk in error and fallacy.


[This post goes onto my blog but not out to my blog send list recipients until my email server quits intercepting my bulk posts under the suspicion that they are spam. I am sorry to say that for the time being those who want to read my posts will have to visit my blog, or get them on social media. I will see if I can send to TradArch and Pro-Urb lists without punishment. – 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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8 Responses to Brown attacks College Hill

  1. Pingback: New Brown engineers’ crib | Architecture Here and There

  2. michael tyrrell says:

    What amazes me is that I completely forgot about those beautiful homes which I remember from previous walks in the area. Its just gross. They really sneaked this by. WTF?…

    On Mon, Dec 14, 2015 at 11:50 AM, michael tyrrell wrote:

    > Oh Man!… I missed this. What a scandal!… > > > On Sun, Dec 13, 2015 at 7:33 PM, Architecture Here and There <


  3. Michael Tyrrell says:

    This is awful. The Harvard Law School recently expanded, and they had the good sense to move and restore two landmark Houses in the process. Why is Brown University so different?…. How is it that Brown’s interpretation of its historic physical plant could be so stupid? They have plenty of room on I-195 for this crap… (I know, I know: one should be careful how they address the leaders of a prestigious institution, even if they are idiots).


  4. michael tyrrell says:

    Oh Man!… I missed this. What a scandal!…


  5. Does Brown NOT want to be part of the historic East Side of Providence – does it seek to plop a modernist (although quite 70-ish) look in the middle of it and call it “their campus”? What I always notice is how the windows of these large-windowed monstrosities end up with streaks of polluted rain water, or rust/metal streaks that cannot be removed. From indoors looking out you see a blurred, dirty-windowed view that you wouldn’t tolerate in your own home or office. Not to mention the lack of comfort-spots conducive to creative, higher learning.


  6. KieranTimberlake is a Philadelphia-based firm


  7. What a darn shame. Not much more I can say than that.


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