Frequently Asked Questions
Brown University's New Performing Arts Center
THE PROPOSED PROJECT
Why is Brown building a new Performing Arts Center?
What spaces and facilities is the new PAC expected to include?
Who will manage the PAC?
Will the building be open to the public?
What major steps toward building the PAC have been taken to date?
How did the University select REX?
What other partners will be involved with design and construction?
What is the target date for the completion of the PAC?
Where will the PAC be located?
What led to the revised plan and the shift in site?
What factors were most important as Brown considered potential sites?
Why is a site on College Hill so essential?
How will the PAC be integrated with other arts facilities on campus?
PRESERVATION AT BROWN
How did Brown collect input from the local community?
How does the revised plan address concerns about the size of the building?
How did Brown consider the impact of traffic and parking on the neighborhood?
What impact will the PAC have on traffic and parking?
Is there data from the parking study that Brown can share?
What actions will Brown take if traffic or parking becomes problematic during major events?
What are the next steps as plans for the PAC proceed?
If you have any additional questions, please contact Brian Clark in the Office of University Communications. He can be reached at 401.863.1638 or brian_clark [at] brown.edu
THE PROPOSED PROJECT
Brown is committed to the full integration of the arts into a complete liberal arts education. We know that addressing some of the world’s most vexing challenges benefits from the creative problem-solving enabled by people who have studied and experienced the arts.
This means increasing access to the arts among students from all academic disciplines — from the humanities, to international affairs, to the sciences — and creating new opportunities for teaching, research, artmaking, performance and experimentation. This also means attracting thought leadership from scholars and cultural institutions well beyond Brown.
The University launched the Brown Arts Initiative to lead these efforts and more. And a new, state-of-the-art performing arts center will be essential in Brown’s ability to achieve those goals.
With an envisioned 500-seat main performance hall, the proposed PAC will be the only performance space on campus capable of hosting a full opera company or other large-scale collaboration between theater, dance and music. The building will also house a smaller rehearsal space, a wide range of studios, practice spaces and more.
It will have the necessary acoustics for music performance. It will enable students interested in lighting, sound design and A/V to learn in a fully-equipped building with space currently unavailable in the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. And it will host reconfigurable spaces that will allow students to fully develop and create theatrical performances in the building where they will take place.
The focus is to attract world-class students, faculty and visiting artists to Brown and provide them with a diversity of academic spaces to experiment, work, perform and learn. Rehearsal, dance and acting studios will serve as classrooms during the day.
The PAC and will be managed and programmed by the Brown Arts Initiative, which represents a consortium of departments and programs at Brown, including the David Winton Bell Gallery, History of Art and Architecture, Literary Arts, Modern Culture and Media, Music, Rites and Reason Theatre/Africana Studies, Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, and Visual Art.
Yes. Though the focus is academic, the new center is envisioned as an asset to the local community as well; performances will be open to the public, as is the case with most events at Brown today.
The PAC has been in the planning stages since February 2017, when the Brown Corporation approved a site for the facility, defined as being located within a defined area adjacent to other arts-centered academic facilities. The Corporation also gave the green light for Brown to move forward with the selection of an architect.
In May 2017, the University selected New York City-based REX architects to design the new, state-of-the-art facility. Joshua Prince-Ramus is the founding principal and president and leads the design of all the firm’s projects. The team began assessing intended uses of the building against the proposed size and configuration.
The Design Review Subcommittee of the Brown Corporation’s Committee on Facilities and Campus Planning managed the selection process. The group included Corporation members working with senior administrators at Brown and staff with expertise in architecture, design, construction management, the performing arts and more. The subcommittee identified 15 firms in the U.S. and abroad to submit qualifications in the early spring of 2017. After a three-month review process, which included numerous site visits to North American venues designed by the firms, the list was reduced to five. These firms were invited to campus for visits and in-person interviews.
Selection criteria included each firm’s track record of designing successful performance venues and cultural facilities; arts practitioners’ assessments of how well the venues perform; professional and client references; organizational capacity; ability to work effectively with a multi-faceted team using Integrated Project Delivery; experience with campus and urban buildings; and creative programmatic ideas to serve academic purposes and the greater Providence community.
With a portfolio that includes pioneering cultural buildings such as the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas, the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center site in New York, and the Seattle Central Library, REX is known for its imaginative approach to cultural buildings, which proved a major factor in the selection.
Shawmut Design and Construction will serve as contractor on the project. Reed Hilderbrand has been engaged as the landscape architect.
The target date for completed construction of the PAC is 2022.
Potential building sites along The Walk, a series of linked green spaces that intersect campus, have been identified as likely sites for Brown’s expansion on College Hill for more than 15 years, as outlined in the University’s 2003 Strategic Framework for Physical Planning.
Brown’s original plan for the PAC, as approved by the Corporation in May 2017, situated the building on a plot between Angell and Waterman streets on the west side of The Walk. The site encompassed six structures — one that would have remained, one that would have been relocated and four that would have been demolished.
Brown’s revised plan for the PAC, unveiled in February 2018, shifts the building north to a smaller plot on The Walk between Angell and Olive streets, facing the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. The shift in site requires the relocation of only a single structure (Sharpe House on Angell Street) and no proposed demolitions.
The plan also reduces the above-ground footprint of the proposed building. Because there is no bus tunnel beneath the smaller site, more of the programming space can be moved underground.
In Fall 2017, Brown launched a process to collect input from local Providence community members for an Institutional Master Plan amendment outlining details of the PAC. Concurrently, the University began in-depth work with students, faculty and staff to validate preliminary plans for the building’s interior spaces. As a result of those processes, Brown developed the revised plan for the PAC.
During the months-long community engagement process that collected public input, common concerns were focused on preserving historic buildings, maintaining the character of the neighborhood and planning for traffic and parking impacts. Brown takes very seriously those concerns and in considering the revised plan, the University continued to examine these impacts on neighborhoods.
In addition, the University had initially considered situating the PAC on the revised site (between Angell and Olive streets), but thought it might be too small. But through the program validation process, Brown re-examined its assumptions and found the smaller plot is feasible.
The revised plan will simultaneously enable Brown to achieve its academic goals and address many of the concerns expressed by community members, including the preservation of historic buildings.
The PAC is an academic building with a significant undergraduate presence. A College Hill location with adjacency to other arts-centered academic facilities in the heart of Brown’s campus is essential. The site must be easily accessible not just to students who concentrate in the arts, but to undergraduate from a wide range of academic disciplines who wish to integrate the arts into their course of study.
A chemistry concentrator, for instance, should be able to work on a research experiment in the lab, head to the PAC for her music rehearsal, and then go to math class. The site must allow undergraduates to access the space during the course of their typical routines; class schedules allow for 10 minutes between classes, not enough time for travel to or from the Jewelry District.
In considering potential PAC sites, Brown closely studied several sites, ruling out others because they do not meet the academic requirements. The University also carefully considered impact on neighborhoods, including removal of trees, negative impact on businesses and direct impact to residents.
Some sites didn’t meet the essential academic requirements. This included Meeting Street location southeast of Alumnae Hall and a Brook Street site between Meeting and Cushing streets. Neither site offered the critically important academic program adjacencies found on The Walk. They also would have created various challenges, including the need to displace student housing, displacement of academic and co-curricular programming, and misalignment with space and zoning requirements.
As Brown has outlined a strategy for the physical growth of its campus in the coming years, its vision is for two tightly linked, complementary campuses on College Hill and in the Jewelry District.
Facilities for undergraduate education will remain on College Hill, and growth on College Hill is being centered on undergraduate-focused academic activities, particularly those that require the close collaboration among students and faculty for which Brown is known. Given its proximity to health care and commerce, the Jewelry District is a natural home for Brown facilities related to scientific research, medical education, graduate study, administrative offices and residential space for graduate and medical students.
This approach advances Brown’s work in recent years to “consolidate the core”— clustering academic growth on College Hill near the heart of that campus, adapting historic buildings for reuse and maintaining the campus envelope by avoiding expansion into perimeter neighborhoods. This principle is consistent with the City of Providence’s established goals for an institutional zone, namely to allow for University growth in a manner that protects the surrounding neighborhoods, and is true to Brown’s commitment to consolidating its core and preserving as much as possible the character of the surrounding neighborhood.
The PAC is an academic space that relies on its location in the academic core of Brown’s campus to allow it to serve students from all academic concentrations, and to allow innovative collaboration with the physical sciences, entrepreneurship, social sciences and the entire range of fields of study at Brown. A site on College Hill is fundamentally important to meeting the academic goals for the building.
The revised site puts the PAC at the heart of a cluster of arts facilities that includes the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, Rites and Reason Theatre and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center. This has important implications for undergraduate who study the arts and spend significant amounts of time in many of those facilities.
Just as importantly, locating the PAC centrally on campus, adjacent to the Granoff Center, makes it possible for students who do not concentrate in the arts to participate without necessitating, for example, that they choose between the orchestra and taking critical classes in their disciplines or across the curriculum. In a recent semester, the Brown Orchestra had students from 31 different academic concentrations, ranging from anthropology and applied math, to English and environmental studies, and music, public policy and visual arts.
About 60 percent of Brown undergraduates now declare the arts as their principal co-curricular interest, demonstrating that the need for a major academic rehearsal and performance space has become a critical need.
PRESERVATION AT BROWN
On College Hill, Brown has consistently undertaken major renovation projects, often at significant expense, intended to preserve existing buildings rather than demolish them and build new ones. The result has been the revitalization of a significant number of historic buildings with creative adaptations for present-day use. Examples include Smith-Buonanno Hall, Rhode Island Hall, Pembroke Hall, the Metcalf Research Building and Hunter Laboratory, among others.
Brown currently owns more than 130 historic houses and buildings that are 75 years old or older (dating back to 1770), making Brown a leader in Rhode Island in historic preservation. The University has invested more than $500 million in the preservation of these buildings.
In addition, Brown played a lead role in sparking the transformation of a long-vacant power station into the completely reimagined South Street Landing complex in the Jewelry District. The Brown to Brown Home Ownership Program has revitalized 16 properties to date, many of which have been renovated, sold and added to the city’s tax rolls. And the Brown campus contains six buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, two of which (University Hall and Nightingale Brown House) are identified as national landmarks.
In instances when buildings cannot be preserved, Brown offers ample opportunity to preserve and salvage specific building elements for other projects. And materials that are useful but not architecturally significant are repurposed for other uses inside and outside of Brown.
The original siting of the building encompassed five existing structures. Brown had proposed the relocation of one of the structures and the demolition of four that could not be relocated intact and without compromising mature trees and other aspects of the historic streetscape.
In comparison, shifting the PAC further north on the site requires the relocation of only a single historic building — the 1873 Sharpe House, an academic building home to Department of History faculty and staff — and no proposed demolitions.
The University is confident the building can be moved and is developing a plan to relocate it adjacent to the Peter Green House on Brown Street. With the relocation of Sharpe and the addition of the PAC, a portion of Olive Street owned by the University, between Thayer and Brown streets, will likely be closed to regular vehicle traffic.
In Fall 2017, Brown launched a process to collect input from local Providence community members for an Institutional Master Plan (IMP) amendment outlining details of the PAC. That process included a series of public meetings, conversations with local community groups and presentation to Providence’s City Plan Commission.
During the months-long community engagement process, common concerns were focused on preserving historic buildings, maintaining the character of the neighborhood and planning for traffic and parking impacts. Brown takes very seriously those concerns and in considering the revised plan, the University continued to examine these impacts on neighborhoods.
The design on the shifted site will call for moving more of the programming space underground, allowing for the reduced massing above ground for the smaller site between Angell and Olive streets. The underground facilities are possible because there is no bus tunnel underground on this area of the site.
Yes. In developing and maintaining its IMP, Brown continually assesses the impact of campus projects on neighborhood traffic and parking.
Most recently, Brown commissioned Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) to perform a comprehensive traffic study to inform the plans outlined in the IMP approved by the City of Providence in 2017. The study collected data on vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle traffic, outlined factors including transit services and parking availability, and found that the major projects presented in the IMP were not expected to negatively impact the area’s transportation system in the short- or long-term. The proposed site for the PAC was selected considering pedestrian and vehicular traffic patterns.
The building is expected to generate little, if any, additional street traffic or demand for parking.
Although the building will host events open to the public in the same manner as so many other Brown academic events, many PAC performances will simply be redirected from where they already are occurring in existing venues (i.e., Salomon Center, Alumnae Hall, Sayles Hall) near the proposed site. These existing venues have similar or greater seating capacities (Salomon 101 is 543, Sayles is 500, Alumnae is 433).
The majority of attendees to PAC events will be students, faculty and staff, many of whom will walk, bike or take the bus, as they do currently for other events across campus. Historically, audiences for performances at Brown are composed of one-third students, one-third faculty members and one-third community members, meaning that two-thirds of the audience will either not need parking or already have established parking patterns.
In addition, the proposed site is conveniently located on the Brown shuttle route and is in close proximity to a nexus of high-frequency RIPTA bus lines on Thayer, Brook, Angell Street and Waterman streets. It’s also located along one of Brown’s primary pedestrian promenades, which ensures pedestrian access and connectivity. And it will include bike racks and amenities for cyclists.
VHB performed an on-street parking occupancy study to assess the impacts of the new PAC. The majority of event attendees — approximately two-thirds of total attendees, according to collected event data — use Brown shuttles, public transportation or walk to events.
Patrons who drive to events typically use available on-street parking spaces. There are 940 on-street parking spaces within 1,320 feet (a 5-minute walk) of the proposed PAC site. Additional spaces are available immediately outside of the 5‐minute walking area and are typically underutilized. Major events typically occur after 5 p.m., when demand for on-street parking is lower.
VHB’s study showed that during the highest demand (Friday at 5:00 p.m.), there were 135 available on-street parking spaces within the 5-minute walking area. It should be noted that the observations did not include available parking spaces in off-street parking lots. And there are many available spaces just outside of the 5-minute walking area that are underutilized during this time.
The university will activate a traffic management plan for all events expected to be full-house events and/or to occur when other audience venues on campus (Sayles, Salomon, Alumnae Hall) are scheduled for simultaneous performances.
And should the need to assist with traffic or parking arise during busy periods (Commencement Weekend, for example), Brown will actively manage event parking with extra shuttles and security details, as the University does currently.
The University expects to submit the revised plan to the Providence City Plan Commission in February 2018 as part of the process for seeking approval for amending the University’s Institutional Master Plan to reflect new building projects. Brown will then present a revised IMP amendment detailing the shift in PAC site at the City Plan Commission’s March 20, 2018, meeting.