The Brook Street residences will feature design aspects that support a robust student residential experience while also creating a sense of vitality and activity that are appropriate to the historic neighborhood on College Hill and adjacent spaces on the Brown campus. Providence’s City Plan Commission approved an amendment to Brown’s Institutional Master Plan in June 2020, enabling the University to proceed with construction of the residence hall project on the Brook Street site.
Buildings and Siting
The approved site for the Brook Street residence hall project is near the southern end of Brown’s College Hill campus with buildings of approximately 64,000 and 61,000 square feet, respectively, to be constructed on the west and east sides of Brook Street between Charlesfield and Power streets in Providence.
For the undergraduates who live in the building, the location offers a short walking distance to the heart of Brown’s campus and to local commercial centers on Thayer Street and in the nearby Fox Point neighborhood.
For local community members, the project will transform a site with parking lots and a small strip mall. It will host a publicly accessible green space and a retail space in the west building. The University also is planning for a residential home on the northeast corner of Brook and Power streets — which, combined with the other public spaces, helps to create a transition from the surrounding community to the residence hall site and complement the neighborhood’s character.
Together, the two buildings housing approximately 353 students will have a combined area of about 125,000 gross square feet.
The scale is based on fulfilling two key project goals: (1) strengthening the living and learning experience for third- and fourth-year undergraduates, including seniors seeking to remain on campus beyond Brown’s six-semester residency requirement; and (2) alleviating the impact that the demand for off-campus rental units has on local neighborhoods in Providence by adding significantly to Brown’s on-campus housing inventory.
To meet these goals, the project balances density and scale. The surrounding campus and neighborhood buildings range in height from six stories to three stories. Both residence hall buildings will be five stories at their highest points — smaller than the maximum zoning height permitted at the site, which enables construction of buildings up to six stories. To address community concerns, as part of revisions made to the original plans, Brown added step-downs on both buildings from five to three stories at their southern ends.
The project’s siting, massing, setbacks, building materials and rooflines are thoughtful responses to the streetscape of the local neighborhood and Brown’s Vartan Gregorian Quad, which houses students with a combination of residence halls and green space nearby. The Brook Street residences incorporate subtle massing shifts to break down their scale in relation to the pedestrian experience along Power, Brook and Charlesfield streets. At the southern ends of the site, the buildings step down from five to three stories to continue the scale of the neighboring roofscapes along Power Street.
Like much of the Brown campus, the buildings are made primarily of brick, with expressed moments of texture and detail at windows and corners, along with accents of terracotta and wood. The interior structure comprises cross-laminated timber, which minimizes the environmental impact of the residence hall and gives the interior ceilings a warm materiality visible from the street.
In combination with a publicly accessible green space at the southern end of the west building, the layering of building space and landscape will create a natural transition to the sidewalks and streets, addressing the scale of the neighborhood and recognizing the edge of the University’s campus. In addition, Brown is pursuing the construction of a new residential home on the northeast corner of Brook and Power streets to maintain the residential edge where the campus meets the neighborhood, while supporting the historical fabric of the street. Building entry points and services are purposefully positioned at the north side of the residence halls to reduce the impact of student foot traffic and vehicular access on local neighbors.
The design team is working to create a project that truly feels accessible in terms of how the buildings meet the ground. That means entries that are visible, a relationship to the street, a layering of landscape and plantings adjacent to the sidewalk, and a tree canopy — design aspects that create a sense of vitality and activity that are appropriate to the neighborhood and the University and that will create visual harmony for the pedestrian experience.
The buildings’ interiors have been designed to support the needs and living preferences of older undergraduate students while promoting a strong sense of community among its residents. Each floor will feature shared kitchens and a series of suites, each with four single bedrooms, a shared living room and a bathroom. The buildings will also include shared study, meeting and community spaces.
Green Space and Adjacent Retail Space
The publicly accessible green space is being designed by Stimson Associates landscape architects in collaboration with building project architects Deborah Berke Partners. It is intended as a space that will welcome members of both the Brown and Providence communities and will be designed to accommodate a range of activities, from small-group gatherings to individual quiet contemplation.
The green space will offer universal accessibility and will include well-shaded spaces that encourage public use throughout the year, whether programmed or impromptu. The landscapes will also provide planted swales and rain gardens that visibly manage stormwater and help meet the University’s long-term sustainability goals.
A retail space in the west building will both engage the street and activate the immediately adjacent green space with an amenity that is beneficial to the surrounding neighborhood and the Brown community.
The planned construction of a new residential home on the northeast corner of Brook and Power streets (on a current gravel parking area) would meet the goals of a project that is appropriately situated on a corner, holds the residential edge where neighborhood and campus meet, and supports the historical fabric of the street.
A new residence constructed on that corner in the historic district will require all necessary reviews and approvals, including from the Providence Historic District Commission. The University is committed to working through those processes with engagement from the community.
The University’s intention would be for the home to be owner-occupied, likely through its highly successful Brown to Brown Home Ownership Program, which has sold 20 Brown-owned houses to faculty and staff over the past 10 years.