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About this Property
In 2015, Brown University acquired the land bounded Brook, Meeting, and Cushing streets where seven houses once stood. The university argued that the private developer did not maintain the properties and therefore they presented a blight and should be torn down. They proposed putting a parking lot in place instead, one which would “serve the needs of the Thayer Street commercial district.”1 They won approval for demolition.
Also, from the same news story, Brown had said they hoped “to redevelop the property for academic or residential use, but has no specific plans to do so”. Only a few years later, and ground breaks on a new student wellness center and residence hall.
The center brings together physical health services, mental and emotional health services, and wellness education and programming that were previously spread out across the campus. The co-location of housing and wellness center was intentional, putting students together who want to develop healthier lifestyles and want to study holistic approaches to wellness.2
This is first new student housing building on Brown’s campus, built by Brown, in 30 years but comes shortly before another housing project further down Brook street. It is 96,000 square feet of meeting space, exam rooms, labs, student-run EMT space, common areas, and 162 beds in pod-style arrangements. The building was designed to LEED v4 Silver standards as well as newer standards for healthy buildings.3
If our opinion matters, we are unsure about this building. It seems shiny and new now, with a certain kind of modernism that does not immediately scream bland pre-manufactured and off-the-shelf sameness. The variation in mass and punctuations make it less of one large blob and more like a series of interconnected buildings with the same visual theme. It is a stark contrast to its surroundings, and we are not sure if that is good or bad. The new-ish privately-developed dormitory at 257 Thayer Street was forced by design review to blend in more with its surroundings by using brick and more traditional massing shapes, like the gable-roof-style dormers. It looks now like it is a theme-park version of what “traditional” architecture looks like when compared with this far-more stark and modern Wellness Center.
What we have seen, though, since the Gilbane project in 2010 is an erosion of this neighborhood — bounded by Brook, Meeting, and Angel Street further to the south. Several new but bland structures have taken up space on Angel Street now. The demolitions of historic homes in this area have opened the floodgates to student-housing developers and because of the precedent, we think the city has few tools left to encourage responsible development. Compared with some of these newer buildings that have opened up around the Wellness center, we like the Wellness center more — but that may not be saying much.
In the News
Providence OKs Brown’s new performing arts center and dorm with wellness facilities
by Christine Dunn
Providence Journal | April 2, 2018 (abridged)
The City Plan Commission voted unanimously Monday night in favor of amendments to Brown University’s master plan that would add two new buildings at the College Hill campus: a performing arts center and a student wellness center and residence hall. […]
The new, 96,000-square-foot student wellness center and 128-bed residence hall will be located on what is now a surface parking lot at 450 Brook St. Brown received permission years ago to demolish several deteriorated structures on the lot, where a previous owner once hoped to build a hotel, according to Andrew Teitz, a lawyer who represented Brown before the commission Monday night.
Presenting Brown’s case in the manner of a trial attorney, Teitz offered the credentials of the witnesses called upon to speak on Brown’s behalf, including Rovan, university architect Collette Creppell, Al Dahlberg, Brown’s assistant vice president for government and community relations, traffic engineer Robert Clinton, and Michael Cassidy, a consultant and former Pawtucket planning director.
In addition, many of those who signed up for the public comment period had Brown connections and voiced support for the plans: Katerina Rademacher and Evan Browning, the president and vice president, respectively, of Brown’s orchestra board; Mark Steinbach, Brown University organist and senior lecturer, and Dietrich Neumann, professor of modern and contemporary architecture at Brown, and the university’s director of urban studies.
“I look forward to having a really excellent piece of contemporary architecture on campus,” Neumann said.
Not every speaker was in favor of Brown’s plans. Christopher and Catherine Tompkins questioned why Brown doesn’t do more to house its student body in campus buildings; instead, students displace residents and drive up rents in Providence, they argued.
But commission Vice Chairman Michael Gazdacko said public comments had to be limited to the matter at hand: the two new buildings.
Dunn, Christine. “Providence OKs Brown’s new performing arts center and dorm with wellness facilities.” Providence Journal: Web Edition Articles (RI), sec. News, 2 Apr. 2018. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/16B1258B713E8588. Accessed 22 Mar. 2022.
Internal Brown website page about the project, captured March 23, 2022 from https://www.brown.edu/facilities/projects/capital-projects/completed/wellness-center-residence-hall ↩
The architect’s website portfolio page about the project, captured March 23, 2022 from https://rawnarch.com/brownwellnessreshall ↩