New Brown engineers’ crib

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New research facility on Brook Street houses the Brown School of Engineering.

Modern architecture is easy to dislike. Its exemplars are ridiculous, its mythology is idiotic, and the methods by which it maintains dominance in the field of architecture are corrupt. I loathe modern architecture generally and feel little but contempt for its buildings individually.

But there are some modernist buildings that strike me as, well, all right.

I could find no photographs online yet of Brown University’s new School of Engineering facility. I criticized it and much of the rest of Brown’s recent architecture in “Brown attacks College Hill,” which links to my original critique. Even then, I found the building less obnoxious than most of its brethren – sort of like the recently razed Fogarty Building, a modestly inoffensive brand of the Brutalist style more aggressively represented by the List Art Center on College Street and, most infamously, Boston City Hall.

The proposed engineering school design I damned with faint praise back then in “Brown attacks”: “predictably boring but not as bad as it could have been.” Of the completed building I would say pretty much the same. True, it deserves to be damned some more given that, for all its modesty, it does not deign to make the least attempt to fit into its lovely College Hill setting (it was designed by KieranTimberlake of Philadelphia). Worse, the four historic houses demolished to make way for it were all far superior buildings both individually and collectively.

Still, it has a certain elegance unlike almost every other modernist building at Brown, from the List Art Center, by Philip Johnson, to the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts by Dildo, Scrofulous + Rentfree (oops, I meant Diller Scofidio + Renfro). Perhaps the only modernist building until now at Brown that could be called elegant is one of Brown’s first modernist buildings, also by Johnson, a block north on Brook Street, his Computation Lab, completed in 1961, a small building erected to house a large computer, the IBM 7070, whose computational power could now probably fit in your cell phone.

Look at it below, as it is today and in as an elevation drawing. Very nice. For the new engineering facility to be placed in the same category is as much praise as I can muster for it.

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About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. 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. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and 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 invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, 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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6 Responses to New Brown engineers’ crib

  1. Anonymous says:

    To bad it doesn’t present a face to the public. It’s all about exposing itself,which is hardly polite.

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  2. My two comments are – keep the windows washed and make sure seal breaks are promptly repaired – sure do hate to see long streaks of brown and white down the windows. AND – do something about the birds’ nests that seem to love life in the nooks and crannies of the windows up on Brook.

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  3. NS Coleman says:

    A nice, honest write up, David. My only comment is that KT is based out of Philadelphia, not Chicago.

    Kindly.

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  4. Peter Mackie says:

    If only Brown would complete the job by eliminating the two nearby dead utility poles on Brook which once served the demolished houses. They stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, especially the southern-most one at the corner, which impinges on the Computation Lab mentioned. They are visual pollution which reflect 20th century technology near a 21st century building.

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  5. petervanerp says:

    At least the building has a sense of scale, in that the ground floor is expressed differently from the upper floors, and in a size related to humans. The Granoff, OTOH, is the same chunk of building as the Broad in LA, scaled down by 2/3s.

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