Smith Swim Center at Brown University


Excerpted from the Providence Journal, May 27, 2007

The Smith Swim Center was among the best in the nation when it opened in 1973. It featured a 50-meter long course, a 25-yard short course, spectator area, locker rooms and squash courts. Brown hosted major competitions at many levels. The roof, which suggests a circus tent, became a landmark on the East Side.

Renovations included remodeling the eight narrow squash courts into six international courts and, last summer, new locker rooms. During that project a worker with a blowtorch accidentally ignited one of the wooden beams that support the roof. There was no major damage, but officials wondered why the fire spread faster than it should have. Upon inspection they discovered that the beam was becoming hollow because of rot. Thirty-five years of humid air had taken a toll.

Workers reinforced the beam, and the swim center opened for the fall semester. Two teams of engineers examined the roof and filed a report in November. The building was closed Dec. 20 after the architect expressed concern about the roof. Further inspection ensued, repairs were made, and the facility reopened on Jan. 17.

Four weeks later, Feb. 13, Brown closed the pool again. Dan Tully, the original builder, had noticed the beams were out of alignment and there was deflection in the roof panels. Repair options were expensive, and on April 27 came the announcement that the Smith Swim Center would not reopen.

While money from donors has been pledged towards a new fitness center and a new pool, as of June 2010, ground has not broken on the facility.

awards for design

Daniel F. Tully, architect awarded the “Best Use of Plywood” 1975, by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Plywood Association.

impressions of the design

To look at Daniel Tully’s portfolio, one will see a repetition or fascination with the interlocking and inverted triangular shapes made by pitching a roof up, then down, then up again. His work is very interesting when viewed as a whole. Several large ivy-league colleges used Mr Tully to build athletic complexes. I only lament the fact that this building was not able to last, or that the architect did not take into account the humid conditions that would rot his roof structure design over a period of thirty years.


From Tully International website: Brown University Smith Swim Center – This structure is an intercollegiate 50 meter swimming and diving pool with 2,000 spectator seats, built in 1973. Additionally there are 8 intercollegiate squash courts. The heavy timber structure is somewhat spartan in its finishes (insulated pre-cast concrete exterior sidewalls painted on the inside) except for the pool deck area which has ceramic tile throughout. The clear spans are 130' x 325'. Gross area is 50,218 sq.ft.

Brown University Olney-Margolies Building (still in use by the University) – was built in 1980 as the successful solution in a “design/build” competition. The O-M building, as it is called, has a span of 180' and a gross area of 88,000 sq.ft. The span allows a football/soccer field on the roof. The structure is reinforced concrete on steel forms (the ceiling forms remained in place). This structure was cited by Engineering News Record as one of the 10 most noteworthy engineering structures in the world during the year it was built. Accommodations are 4 full sized basketball courts on the main floor surrounded by a 6 lane 200 meter track. There is a dance/wrestling room, a VIP room, Athletic offices, training facilities and lockers for outdoor sports as well as general student lockers. It is connected by an umbilical corridor to the Smith Swim Center. Exterior sidewalls at the rear are prefabricated "hat" section sheet metal panels with pre-cast concrete sidewalls in the front except over the main entrance. Lobby is carpet on concrete.

Daniel F. Tully, Architect Apr 27 2013 During the time I was asked to investigate the troubles noticed in 2007, I found that someone perhaps 20 years earlier had cut the humidistat wiring. The humidity control system was a simple one, when the humidity on the inside rose well above that on the outside six exhaust fans would automatically turn on and lower the humidity significantly. In a misplaced zeal to save energy during the crisis in the seventies some consultant simply CUT the control wiring. This madness may have saved Brown University a few dollars but it cost them a wonderful building.

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