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U. hopes to open performing arts center by fall 2021

UEL students, faculty members hope performing arts center will carry on legacy of sustainability

Over the summer, the University has continued its work developing plans for the new performing arts center after announcing its conception spring 2017. The project’s architecture firm, REX, has begun its work researching and exploring ideas for the new center in partnership with the Brown Arts Initiative and other University representatives after a summer of team development. The development team is set to move into the designing phase of the project in the beginning of 2018 and hopes to begin construction by Dec. 21, 2018. The University plans to open the new center by fall 2021.

Over the summer, the University worked to build an “absolutely superb project team,” said Collette Creppell, University architect. “This team not only includes the architecture firm REX, but (also) our general contractor Shawmut, who has done the last six to seven major projects. … Additionally, we have a renowned group of consultants … that are recognized around the world for the work that they do on performing arts.”

To create the new performing arts center, the University is utilizing a new approach to the collaborative design process known as “integrated project delivery.”

“This project is being done in a very different way than a lot of the previous buildings have been done,” said Joseph Rovan, director of the Brown Arts Initiative. Rather than dividing the project between architects and contractors, the University built one team that will be involved in each step of the process. “It’s very emblematic of the way Brown thinks and what it means to be at Brown,” Rovan said. “It’s very collaborative, and it’s very transparent,” Rovan said.

Through this process, the University hopes to develop a space that is flexible but uncompromising in its function. “The demand is for a building that can simultaneously provide an exceptional acoustic space for the symphony orchestra and … for experimental performances, things that combine many different artistic genres and fields of study as well as combining with new media,” said Joshua Prince-Ramus, founding principal and president of REX.

The center should be able to support anything from classical music quartets to theater productions, Rovan added.

Though the introduction of this center provides new space for members of the art community to work and perform, it will not take away from the purpose and functionality of existing arts buildings, Rovan said. “You can think of it as an ecosystem of spaces,” he added. “Each space has a particular use that it’s good at. What we want to bring to campus is that larger space that we can rethink and adapt. We want to move away from having to use Sayles as the place for things like the orchestra because it’s just not really suitable for that.”

REX designs with the philosophy that both form and function are necessary to create a building that fulfills all of its needs. “Architecture should do, not just represent,” Prince-Ramus said. “We have a belief in the ability of architecture to socially engineer and to solve problems, not just to be an embodiment of something or to signify something. That’s not to say that aesthetics aren’t really important to us, but it’s just not the way that we discuss work.”

Even though the project has been coordinated by the project team, there is still a distinct role for student input in both the process and final result. “Through the entire University, both at the level of (President Christina Paxson P’19) and at the leadership of the Brown Arts Initiative, the desire for student involvement in the process has really been emphasized,” Prince-Ramus said. “We’ve already had a pretty amazing conversation with a group that the president had identified; it was incredibly productive and insightful to us to understand how this building could meet the needs of not just the formal institution but the informal student groups as well,” he said.

“It’s an interesting discussion because any students that we engage will never actually participate in the use of this building, at least in their undergraduate years,” Prince-Ramus said. “It’s a stewardship on all of your parts.”

While the creation of the performing arts center will bring new space for the arts on campus, it may require the destruction of buildings such as the Urban Environmental Laboratory, which currently stands on the construction site.

“We are in the early stages of looking at how much of the program can fit in another space nearby,” said Kurt Teichert, senior lecturer in environmental studies. Currently, an important function of the UEL is as a common space for students. “We’ll hopefully have the kind of meeting space and break-out space so that section and project meetings can still occur,” Teichert said. By utilizing space in 85 Waterman St., some of the larger classes that are currently held in the UEL can be transferred to a consistent meeting place, he added.

As the planning process for the performing arts center continues, the students and faculty members who utilize the UEL are committed to ensuring the building’s environmental sustainability. “We want to make sure that the new center makes good use of that (site),” said Lauren Maunus ’19, a concentrator in environmental studies and member of the Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition. “The sun is really strong there, there’s really good ventilation in the UEL right now — it’s very in touch with its natural environment. We want to make sure that this new space takes that into account.”

“The fundamental solar-oriented principles of the building that (provide) a lot of the comfort and usability of the space without having to use any fossil fuels is the key thing that should be instilled in the design of the performing arts center,” Teichert said.

One of the most important aspects of the demolition of the space will be preserving its history and legacy for the Brown community, Maunus said. The continuation of its legacy would come through the functionality of the new performing arts center and its future role as a community space on campus. “There’s so much history of community there,” she said. “To make it another institutional building that people don’t feel welcome in on campus would be very sad.”

“It’s very challenging to begin to come to grips with the fact that it may not be there, but I remind myself and others that change is inevitable,” Teichert said.


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