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‘Starchitects’ design cutting-edge buildings

Prof. Neumann and students developed an app featuring facts about campus architecture

It is easy to walk through campus without a thought to the masterminds behind the buildings that shape the landscape of College Hill. But several core structures were designed by stars of the architectural field­ ­— referred to as ‘starchitects’ — who implemented innovative ideas of their respective eras in imagining buildings ideal for students and tailored to location.

Students eager to learn more about the myriad of buildings on campus will soon have access to an app featuring 131 buildings, old and new, on the University’s campus, including descriptions and photographs. History of Art and Architecture Professor Dietrich Neumann developed the app, called Brown FACADES — short for Facts About Campus Architecture Design Environment and Spaces­ — in collaboration with several students in a 2011 seminar.

In addition to prominent, existing buildings, the app also shows ‘ghost buildings’ — those planned but never built or built but since torn down. The free app will include GPS map and text-to-speech functionality. The Herald spoke with Neumann about some of the more prominent, newer constructions on campus featured in his app.


List Art Center

Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Philip Johnson of Seagram Building and Glass House fame designed List Art Center in 1964. The structure, built in the style of Yale’s Paul Rudolph Hall and Harvard’s Carpenter Center, exemplifies the spirit of 1960s architecture, Neumann said.

List is “urbanistically good because it’s open and inviting to Providence,” Neumann added. The designers carefully considered the building’s location on the western edge of campus, overlooking downtown Providence, in creating a building that acts as a welcoming bridge between Providence and the University’s campus.


Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts

Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, completed in 2011, was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The studio, founded by Elizabeth Diller, Charles Renfro and Recardo Scofidio, focused on how architecture works to enhance performing and visual arts.

The design had one fundamental objective — “to be open and visible to the outside,” Neumann said. The Center features split level floors, giving the building a step-like facade and a staggered skyline. The structure’s split level element highlights its collaborative nature, as artists working in a studio “can look up and down at other studios and get inspired,” Neuman said, adding that the architects, who also designed New York City’s High Line, were “interested in creating surprising and visual connections.” This manner of connecting form to function is a distinguishing feature of much of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s work, Neumann said, noting the similar split-level design of the studio’s Lincoln Center in New York City.

Passersby on Angell Street may notice the building’s banded outer wall, broken up by three large triangular windows emerging outward from the building’s center. These windows give the structure the appearance that its “skin has been pulled together to let you look in,” Neumann said.


Nelson Fitness Center

An even newer addition to campus, the Nelson Fitness and Aquatic Center was the brainchild of Robert A.M. Stern and opened in May 2012. Stern, who has enjoyed a lengthy and well-regarded career, tends to build in a traditional style, often using large windows and brick walls, Neumann said.

Known for his well thought out floor plans, Stern creates a visually appealing facade while seamlessly maximizing the function of the space, Neumann said. When tackling the new fitness center, Stern embraced the University’s rich history, incorporating older and more conventional architectural elements into the modern building. For instance, the cupola atop the current fitness center originally came from a former University sports facility, Marvel Gymnasium.


Watson Institute for International Studies

Fittingly designed by international architect Rafael Vinoly in 2002, Watson Institute for International Studies has a “very generous central open corridor,” Neumann said. Walkways on both sides enable students and professors to communicate with one another easily. Another defining characteristic of the building’s design are the glass ‘think tanks,’ labs and libraries overlooking the bamboo garden in back, which presents a beautiful backdrop for learning.

Vinoly, who is from Uruguay, recently received attention for designing a London skyscraper curved in such a way that it reflects rays of light so intensely that they can melt the plastic parts of cars parked nearby, according to multiple news outlets.



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