Brown University is at it again. It plans to tear down old structures in order to build new ones. GoLocalProv.com’s story, “Brown Proposing to Build 375-Bed Residential Hall – Multiple Structures to be Demolished,” mentions four demolitions and reveals that Brown has hired the New York firm of Deborah Berke Partners to build the two new structures involved. The choice bodes poorly for the allure of what is to replace the old buildings, which include at least three houses of considerable charm.
Three pleasing historic houses, including two east of Brook Street, would be demolished, plus the strip mall just west of Brook, whose loss will break no hearts. The project involves two new buildings, one on each side of the street.
The following from the Berke website is typical, as is the GoLocal assessment:
Among other projects both within higher education and for other clients, the firm’s portfolio features institutional buildings designed to complement urban neighborhood spaces. Recently, it completed a residence hall project at Dickinson College (left); another is currently underway at Princeton University. … The firm also distinguished itself in its ability to design institutional buildings that effectively integrate with their surrounding neighborhoods.
“Complement urban neighborhood spaces” indeed! The firm’s website features exactly zero such buildings in its academic portfolio, the closest being a UPenn guest house in which a carbuncle was added to the rear of a beautiful old building.
GoLocal named the firm’s architect who will handle the Brown project, Noah Biklen, a 1997 Brown grad. He is quoted as saying:
“Already, this project has allowed me to reflect on my student experience of falling in love with both Brown’s campus and the city of Providence,” he said. “It feels both exciting and rewarding to have the chance to help advance Brown’s goal of establishing a new vibrant, inviting residential community that is knitted into the fabric of its surrounding neighborhood.”
Can you believe that!? It seems the best way to knit new buildings into the old fabric is to take a baseball bat and swing it into the face of College Hill. I hope that was something Biklen learned after he left Brown.
The anonymous author of the GoLocal story describes Brown’s goal:
In considering new construction projects and modern adaptations of existing structures, Brown works to balance its commitment to preserving the character of its historic neighborhood with the need to provide spaces that enable the University to fulfill its mission.
In fact, it would be easy to achieve such a balance without courting the snickers that must attend any reading of that obviously ridiculous statement by Brown. Instead of trying to “preserve the character” of College Hill by building structures that reject and erode that character, the university could erect new traditional buildings that fit into their context. Beautifying the school would reduce tensions with the local community. It would also produce better memories for graduates, who as a result might donate more to Brown when they succeed in life.
No architectural renderings for the project were released to GoLocal, it appears, so we’ll just have to assume the plan is to make it all as ugly as sin. This has been the school’s modus operandi for many decades, with only one exception. That was the Nelson Fitness Center, completed in 2012, whose primary donor refused to fork the money over until a better design was proposed. To judge by the new buildings that have arisen since, that experiment must have been deemed a failure. Way to go, Brown!