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Once a bustling jewelry factory, then an office complex, 222 Richmond St. now houses state-of-the-art anatomy classrooms and a bookless digital library. Its new role as Brown's Medical Education Building has made it something of a celebrity in the city. Surrounding properties are slowly being snatched up.

Some see in this post-industrial area — sandwiched between downtown, the Providence River and the hospital complex — not only as the future of Brown but that of the city and state as well. Many hope it will become a hub of education and medicine, akin to those in Houston, Baltimore and Boston. Planners also stress the importance of housing and retail  to guarantee lively streets after the workday ends.

Elements of the Medical Education Building's design reflect high hopes for the district's future. Though travelers from College Hill would find a closer entrance on the east side of the building, a main door is found on Richmond Street to the west, opening it out to the neighborhood. The University made it a priority to widen the sidewalk and plant trees to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment.

And for the hungry passerby, one of the more popular eateries on College Hill has opened a sister shop inside the new building. Bagel Gourmet Cafe opens out to the street corner at Richmond and Ship streets. This serves to connect the Brown community to the wider community in the neighborhood, said Ed Wing, dean of medicine and biological sciences, "to have something that's not just for the Medical School or for Brown."

"Ground floor uses should be things that anybody on the ground floor can share," said Frances Halsband, a long-time University planner and designer of the Walk.

A parking lot diagonal from the cafe will soon be transformed into a public plaza. Construction is scheduled to start today and conclude Dec. 8.

Halsband says the plaza — informally known by planners as Ship Street square — represents Brown's intention to create public spaces open to all. "Once this little park is finished, we hope that people will buy coffee in the cafe then go across the street and sit in the park," she said. The University is looking into bringing food trucks and live entertainment to help activate the space.

"Ship Street itself, I think, is extraordinarily important," Halsband said, being "one of the most historic streets on that entire side of the river." She said she hopes the street, which connects to the waterfront, will sometimes be closed to traffic to serve as a pedestrian gathering place.

The Medical Education Building will bring life to the area by bringing in several hundred employees and students, in addition to those already working in other Brown buildings in the district. The Office of Continuing Education will soon move to the area as well.

Perhaps the showcase of the building is its central sky-lit atrium. Featuring "monumental stairways" connecting its floors, it unifies the building's two sides, three floors and two entrances and provides a lounge and meeting space for students, Wing said. "It's almost like a street."

The lobby is also home to an art installation which will "provide a centralizing theme for the building," he said. The mural, designed by artist Larry Kirkland, symbolizes the doctor-patient relationship and is part of a University program that dedicates 1 percent of construction costs to public art.

Above the entrances are vertical glass panels bearing the school's name. Lit at night, the panels lend the building a palpable presence even when closed.

The Alpert Medical School also aims to fully embrace the digital era. The building features a "library of the future" — "unlike the Rock, this has no books," Wing said.

This year, the University required all incoming medical students to purchase iPads, which can hold lecture notes and electronic textbooks.

Still, the building pays homage to its industrial past. The original waffle-style ceilings are exposed in some places and the historic exterior has been restored.

"It's a great facility," said Arthur Salisbury, a neighborhood resident and president of the Jewelry District Association, a group of residents, businesses, universities and hospitals. "We're very happy it's here."


Check out for more photos of the Medical Education Building.


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