Date October 21, 2017
Media Contact

Brown celebrates launch of Watson Institute expansion

Members of the Brown community gathered amid the in-progress construction of additional facilities that will help Watson expand its teaching, research and partnerships.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Members of the Brown University family and the greater community came together on Saturday, Oct. 21, to mark significant early progress on construction of a new building for the University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

The new building-in-progress — a 20,000 square-foot facility designed by architect Toshiko Mori and on a site adjacent to the current Watson building — is part of an overall expansion at Watson that encompasses both physical spaces and ambitious plans for creating a more robust, inclusive and integrative community of scholars addressing global policy challenges.

Speaking in Starr Plaza, the exterior common space located at the heart of the expanded Watson site, with the steel frame of the new building behind her, Brown President Christina Paxson reflected on the Watson Institute’s growth and development.

“When we set out to develop the strategic plan for the University, Building on Distinction, we decided — with faculty, student, alumni and Corporation input — that we needed to build on Brown’s strengths as a naturally collaborative, student-centered, innovative University,” Paxson said, “and to produce the rigorous scholarship and the grounded, thoughtful students that Brown is proud to graduate. Watson, from a very early time, became almost a proof of principle that Brown could do this and could do it really well, that we could create an interdisciplinary hub of first-class research education that has an impact on the world.”

Over the last five years, Paxson said, the Institute has undergone an explosion in the growth of affiliated faculty from across the University, hired new faculty, merged the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy into the Institute, become the home of three undergraduate concentrations, forged new external partnerships, reinvented the master’s in public affairs program, and reinvigorated its regional studies programs, among other accomplishments.

Because the Institute is so full of life and activity, Paxson said, “This expansion is not a luxury; it’s an absolute necessity if we want to live up to all of the things we want to do.”

Richard Locke, Brown's provost and the former director of the Watson Institute, said, “I am continuously inspired and motivated by the great work that is taking place here,” as he welcomed the crowd of alumni, parents, faculty, staff, scholars and friends.

“The progress that’s been made over the last several years wouldn’t have been possible without the tremendous amount of work and the contributions of everyone here today," Locke said. "I’m so thankful to be a member of this community.”

Edward Steinfeld, director of the Watson Institute, emphasized the importance of strengthening that community through the institute’s expansion.

“There’s a belief at the Watson Institute, and I know it’s a belief across the University, that to solve the world’s great problems you have to have a multidimensional, multidisciplinary and multidirectional kind of learning,” Steinfeld said. “You have to put lots of different voices together to have interactions. That’s why public spaces have been an emphasis in this building.”

“The most important thing at Brown University is not our physical facilities,” Steinfeld said. “The most important, valuable asset are our students. But I will say that buildings that are designed right and buildings that are designed beautifully, as this building is, further unlock the potential of everybody in this community: students, staff, faculty and visitors.”

In addition to the new building on Brook Street, existing buildings at 63-65 Charlesfield Street will be renovated. The centrally located Starr Plaza will connect those facilities with Watson's current spaces at 111 Thayer Street and 59 Charlesfield Street.

The new building will house academic programs and the institute’s growing regional initiatives, which promote research, teaching, partnerships and public engagement on issues tied to Africa, Brazil, China, contemporary South Asia, Latin American and Caribbean studies, and Middle East studies. It will also be the home base for postdoctoral fellows, visiting scholars and practitioners.

In addition to small meeting rooms and quiet areas, an 80-person classroom and a wide-open, multilevel space in the middle of the new building will accommodate daily informal use, large gatherings and speaker and panel events. Work on the Brook Street building began in June 2017 and it is expected to be completed by the end of December 2018. 

A joint 2015 gift of $50 million by long-time supporters of the Watson Institute is making the expansion project possible. The consortium of donors comprises alumnus Stephen Robert, former chairman and CEO of Oppenheimer & Co. and chancellor emeritus of Brown; Alice Tisch, a trustee of New York University Langone Medical Center and the Museum of Modern Art, and Thomas Tisch, an alumnus, current member of the Board of Fellows of the Brown Corporation and chancellor emeritus as well as managing partner of the New York investment firm Four Partners; and the Thomas J. and Olive C. Watson Jr. Foundation, administered by David McKinney, retired senior vice president of IBM and retired president of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Half of the gift supports the construction and renovation of the Watson Institute’s buildings, while the other half supports educational programs and the ongoing effort to expand the number of faculty.

Anne Pedrero, a 1991 Brown graduate and member of the Watson Board of Overseers who attended Saturday’s event, described the institute as a treasure on campus.

“There’s something exciting happening every single day,” she said, and the new spaces will make a difference. “They can add to our sense of community and create even more opportunities for faculty and student discourse.”

“We want to become more engaged with the campus and broader community,” Steinfeld said. “The building embodies that kind of dream and that kind of aspiration.”