Reimagined Sharpe and Peter Green houses, newly connected, open their doors

The two 19th-century buildings are now unified by two modern glass bridges and a light-filled “loggia,” uniting faculty, staff and students from Brown’s Department of History.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The historic Sharpe and Peter Green houses, former residences that were once neighbors on Angell Street, have spent much of the 21st century apart. Now, after 13 years of separation, the two Brown University buildings are back together again — and, in fact, they’re closer than ever.

Following a two-year project, the two late-19th-century houses — which have long been home to more than 100 faculty members, graduate students and staff in the Brown history department — now coexist alongside each other on Brown Street. They boast renovated interiors, more classroom space and full accessibility to individuals with physical disabilities. Their historic facades are now unified by two modern glass bridges and a light-filled ground-floor “loggia,” lending the department a new sense of cohesion.

Brown President Christina H. Paxson said the newly completed project unites two University goals that may seem diametrically opposed: to pay continual tribute to the past and to stay open to adaptation as priorities and needs change. 

stair bannister in Sharpe House
Architects modernized the interior of Sharpe House while preserving its Vicorian-era details when possible.

“What we see at Brown is a lot of attention to historic preservation, but also a recognition that universities are dynamic places,” Paxson said at a project dedication event on Friday, Jan. 31. “We change, we grow, we reconfigure ourselves, and we put groups together in ways that make sense for the challenges we face at the time.”

Brown Provost Richard M. Locke said the project reflects a long-term goal to co-locate the people who work together most often, making it easier for them to collaborate. Recent examples include space for the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy within the Watson Institute for International Affairs, a new joint home for the education department and Annenberg Institute for School Reform, and a project that placed the Africana studies department next to the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. 

“We make a difference in this world by doing cutting-edge research and innovative teaching, and to do this even better, we needed to bring together faculty — if not under one roof, then under two adjacent roofs,” Locke said. “We know from experience that adjacency and placemaking are powerful factors in building community, as well as in promoting excellence.” 

Locke said the project was an ideal marriage of three key University goals: advancing academic excellence; promoting a cohesive, diverse and inclusive community; and practicing fiscal sustainability. 

“This project demonstrates how thoughtful investment in space can advance the goals that all of us care about,” Locke said. “It’s the intellectual community those spaces foster that are so important to what we’re trying to do.”

A tale of two houses

For 135 years, Sharpe House and Peter Green House sat side-by-side on Angell Street between Brown and Thayer streets, both of them private homes. Brown first acquired half of Sharpe House, then a duplex, in 1921 to house women attending Pembroke College. By the mid-1960s, the University had acquired both buildings and began using their rooms as offices and classrooms. Eventually, both became the sole domain of history faculty and students.

In 2007, crews moved Peter Green House to its current home on Brown Street to make way for The Walk, a series of linked green spaces that intersect campus.  

It’s not luck or coincidence that best describes what transpired in the last two years — it’s intentionality and teamwork.

Robert Self Chair, Department of History

Then, in early 2018 — 13 years later — the University unveiled plans to build a Performing Arts Center at the site of Sharpe House on Angell Street. Administrators and other stakeholders debated many possible outcomes for Sharpe House; campus planning leaders ultimately decided to wheel it to Brown Street, renovate its core and physically link it to Peter Green House. 

The project has given the 1872 house “a new lease on life — a new lease that brings 40 history faculty, 60 Ph.D. students and three staff into a single unified complex for the first time,” said Robert Self, chair of the history department. “It’s not luck or coincidence that best describes what transpired in the last two years — it’s intentionality and teamwork.”

An overwhelming number of groups and individuals worked tirelessly to ensure the project was a success, Self said. Among them were staff and faculty in the history department; construction, project and design managers in Brown Facilities Management; Shawmut Design and Construction; and Providence-based KITE Architects. 

“With this project, we had to seamlessly bridge two houses and two worlds,” said Albert Garcia, co-owner and principal at KITE, at Friday’s dedication. “It was such a rewarding challenge to take these two buildings and make them modern and accessible, while still honoring the Victorian-era construction.”

The first step, Garcia said, was to reimagine the inside of Sharpe House. The four-story building had always been a duplex, making both navigation and collaboration difficult after the building was adapted as an office and classroom space. His team designed a new core for the building, removing the central wall and replacing it with a staircase and elevator. They also added an airy, light-filled classroom to the back of the house; the classroom accommodates 40 students and boasts views of ongoing construction on the Performing Arts Center.

Then came the work of merging the two buildings. The architects designed a two-story glass bridge connecting the second and third floors at the back of the houses, even transforming a dormer into a window seat at the top of Peter Green House. On the ground floor, the two houses are linked by a brand new “loggia,” which includes office space for graduate students and common study areas. 

Self said that Peter Green House, too, received upgrades during construction, thanks to a generous gift from its namesake. 

The result of all this combined effort, he said, is an elegant, state-of-the-art home for the history department, one he predicts will serve them well for decades to come.  

“A project like this doesn’t happen unless people from very different kinds of worlds work together,” Self said. “The combination here of functionality, visual mediation between the two buildings and … small, unique surprises, I think, now make this a signature building on campus.”