Brown unveils new performing arts center plans and renderings

RENDERINGS OF Brown University's state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center, released Wednesday, show a glass 'clearstory' extending out from the building's main frame, allowing visibility into the structure's main floor and performance hall./COURTESY REX
RENDERINGS OF Brown University's state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center, released Wednesday, show a glass 'clearstory' extending out from the building's main frame, allowing visibility into the structure's main floor and performance hall./COURTESY REX

PROVIDENCE – Plans and renderings of Brown University’s new Performing Arts Center to be built on Angell Street were released by the university and New York-based architectural firm REX Wednesday morning.

According to a media release from Brown, the renderings on the 94,500-square-foot performing arts center followed a two-year planning process and a favorable vote by the Corporation of Brown University to allow additional site work to take place. Initial plans were unveiled by the university in 2017 after it launched the Brown Arts Initiative, an effort to make Brown a “vibrant laboratory for inventive arts practice and scholarship,” the release states.

The initial concept for the center came under scrutiny by the local community for necessitating the razing, or relocation, of five historic buildings. The subsequent updates to the design reduced the center’s impact on the neighborhood.

Brown spokesperson Brian Clark said Wednesday the site work for the performing arts center, to be built on the former site of the university’s Sharpe House, will largely focus on excavation since a significant portion of the performing arts center will be built below street level. Sharpe House, owned by the university first built in the 19th century, was relocated to Brown Street in December 2018, which cleared the site which the performing arts center to be built on.

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“We’re moving from the work just to enable the site to be ready to build and we’re now moving into the excavation that will begin construction,” Clark said.

The building’s exterior, the release states, will have an aluminum rainscreen that is shrink-wrapped, with a three-sided glass “clearstory,” which projects outward past the building’s vertical perimeter, showing the interior of the main floor and the performance hall.

The performance hall, itself, will be able to transition into five different stage and seating configurations ranging from a 50-seat acting studio and black-box theater to a 625-seat orchestra hall. There will also be interior glass walls allowing visibility through the performance hall, but also allowing drapes to block out light if needed.

A RENDERING shows that the performance hall inside Brown University’s new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center, to be built on Angell Street in Providence, will be able to change into five different stage and seating configurations, ranging in capacity from 50 people for small showings to 625 people for orchestra performances./COURTESY REX

“The Performing Arts Center’s innovative, flexible design will establish the building itself as a deeply integral part of the artistic process,” Brown University President Christina Paxson said in a prepared statement. “It promises to inspire groundbreaking creation, collaboration and experimentation in ways we can’t even yet imagine.”

Joshua Ramus, founder and principal of REX, said the new performing arts center will not be a “one-size-fits-all auditorium” that is “mediocre to all and excellent for none.”

A percussion studio and various small practice and dressing rooms, as well as space for meetings, administrative offices and event support will be housed in the center’s lower floor, the release states.

Providence-based Shawmut Design and Construction is the project’s general contractor. The construction is being funded through a fundraising campaign that’s currently underway, Clark said, but declined to state how much the project will cost in full.

The project is expected to be finished in 2022.

James Bessette is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Research@PBN.com.