Smith Swim Center at Brown University

An innovative early 70s hyperbolic paraboloid roof structure design that allowed a 130' x 325' uninterrupted interior space

About this Property

Reason for Demolition

New details shed light on demise of swim center

by Zachary Chapman
Brown Daily Herald | Wednesday, September 5, 2007

New details and questions are emerging about what caused the Smith Swim Center’s demise – primarily, University officials say, the building’s lack of a dehumidification system, causing support beams to rot away over the course of almost 35 years.

The facility, built in 1973 and closed for good in February when its roof was deemed structurally unsound, is now slated for demolition.

The problems in the Smith Swim Center’s roof that led to its closure first surfaced last November, according to Stephen Maiorisi, vice president for Facilities Management.

The swim center was closed temporarily last winter as the University conducted inspections and made last-ditch repairs to see if the structure could be salvaged. It was closed permanently on Feb. 13.

[…] Now, they say, it appears that the root of the swim center’s problems was the lack of a dehumidification system – which would almost certainly be included in any similar new facility built today, according to Maiorisi. Moisture built up on the roof of the building, causing the roof’s support beams to rot, he said.

[…] Maiorisi added that the University is aware of other collegiate swimming facilities that have experienced similar problems, such as the pool in Boston College’s William J. Flynn Recreational Complex, which – like the Smith Swim Center and the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center – was designed by Daniel Tully. A call to BC’s athletics staff was not returned Tuesday.

Tully – a Santa Fe, N.M.-based architect who has designed numerous other collegiate swim facilities that bear his patented “hyperbolic paraboloid design” – told The Herald Tuesday that he was “frankly astonished” that the University plans to demolish the Smith Swim Center and build a new facility, calling those plans “inappropriate” and “beyond me.”

Tully said he told the University in a report and analysis that the existing building could be repaired in a year or less for a cost of $2-3 million.

“It’s a great building. It could have been repaired. But I guess that’s life,” he said.

In an article in the July/August issue of Brown Alumni Magazine, Tully hinted that the swim center developed problems in its roof because of improper maintenance.

Tully told The Herald in April that the “hyperbolic paraboloid” design, which he patented, is a “wonderful structure” that is “extraordinarily strong.”

Maiorisi said the building was regularly maintained and that a series of renovations has been performed on the swim center over the years.

He said renovations undertaken in the 1990s to the Smith Swim Center revealed problems related to the building’s lack of a dehumidification system, but that one was never installed. Maiorisi said he did not know why.

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A new swim center — the Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center — was completed in May 2012 at a similar address, 235 Hope Street, as part of the Nelson Fitness Center.


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.

From the Tully International corporate website (now defunct)

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.