PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With a radical, one-of-a-kind approach to spatial, acoustic and technical flexibility, Brown University’s planned Performing Arts Center (PAC) is designed to inspire innovative new art-making, enable unprecedented artistic collaboration and serve as a hub for performance at Brown.
That singular flexibility, along with a horizontal “clearstory” that slices through the building’s façade at stage level, are among the signature elements of the PAC, as debuted in a set of architectural renderings and animations released by Brown and New York-based architecture firm REX on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
The renderings reveal plans for a state-of-the-art main performance hall that can transform into any of five vastly different stage/audience configurations — ranging from a 625-seat symphony orchestra hall, to a 250-seat proscenium theater, to an immersive surround-sound cube for experimental media performance.
Beyond the main hall, a suite of modern studios, rehearsal spaces and intimate performance venues will serve as everyday academic resources for students and faculty. Custom-designed for theater, music and dance, the spaces aim to inspire generations of performing artists to create cutting-edge, original artwork and re-examine well-known works, practices and traditions.
And a transparent slice that intersects the PAC will enable performances, rehearsals and arts scholarship to extend into the Brown campus and local neighborhood, inviting the community to witness and engage in the creation of art within the building.
Brown University President Christina Paxson says that REX achieved a remarkable design — sophisticated and adaptable to multiple art forms, yet also intimate in scale and feel.
“The Performing Arts Center’s innovative, flexible design will establish the building itself as a deeply integral part of the artistic process,” Paxson said. “It promises to inspire groundbreaking creation, collaboration and experimentation in ways we can’t even yet imagine.”
Joshua Ramus, founder and principal of REX, called the building both radically flexible and extremely precise. No arts space like it exists, he said.
“It is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ auditorium, mediocre to all and excellent for none,” Ramus said. “It is literally five very specific, high-performance configurations in one. No other single-space venue can be a 250-seat chamber for spoken word and a 625-seat hall for a 100-piece orchestra, both with exceptional acoustics and intimacy.”
Brown unveiled initial plans for the PAC in 2017 after launching the Brown Arts Initiative (BAI), a campus-wide effort to make the University a vibrant laboratory for inventive arts practice and scholarship. Brown’s strategic plan positions the arts as an integral presence throughout the curriculum and fundamental to cultivating creative expression, stimulating discovery and fueling innovative thinking.
As envisioned, the PAC will vastly expand Brown’s ability to create and stage new and existing works, combine art forms, and welcome world-renowned faculty and artists to learn from and inspire scholars across disparate fields of study. The release of the renderings follows a two-year planning, design and community engagement process and a recent vote by the Corporation of Brown University to authorize site work at the PAC’s approved location on Angell Street in Providence. The University’s target date for completion is spring 2022. [Editor's note: The updated target completion date is spring 2023.]
A tour of the new design
On its striking exterior, the building will be shrink-wrapped in an extruded aluminum rainscreen, composed of fractal-like fluted geometry, Ramus said. The appearance of color and pattern on the façade will shift with seasonal changes and time of day.
Intersecting the vertical flutes, the 13-foot horizontal clearstory slices through the building, revealing the interior of the main floor, including the main performance hall, to passersby in every direction. The glass gives those inside, particularly in the Diana Nelson and John Atwater Lobby and a south-facing promenade, expansive views of The Walk, a series of linked green spaces that intersect the Brown campus.
According to Ramus, while most performance halls have fixed seats and stages intended primarily for specific art forms, Brown’s main hall will depart radically from that convention. REX designed a space in which all six surfaces of the shoebox-shaped hall can modulate physically and/or acoustically. Components such as seating gantries, acoustic curtains, reflector panels and lighting bridges can be shifted, hidden and stretched to configure the space.
With the capability to move walls, floors, seats, ceiling and lights, the PAC can host a Brown University Orchestra concert, a dance recital, an interactive digital media installation, a proscenium theater performance and a formal banquet — all in the same space and all in a matter of a week or two.
Of the five presets designed by REX, the Orchestra configuration looks most like a traditional concert hall, with a stage that accommodates a 100-piece orchestra, a choir loft with space for 80, raked seats for audiences and additional seating in two levels of balconies. The Recital configuration creates a more intimate 350-seat venue ideal for soloists, small ensembles and chamber orchestras, and the walls pushed closer together for optimal acoustics.