A rendering of a community space in Brown's planned new residence hall. Image: Deborah Berke Partners

Brown plans new 375-bed residence hall on College Hill campus

As envisioned, a new two-building, 130,000-square-foot residence hall will strengthen the residential experience for third- and fourth-year students and reduce the demand for off-campus rentals.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When Brown University’s health and wellness center and residence hall opens its doors in Summer 2021, the building will add 162 beds to the University’s inventory of residential space. Now, the University is advancing plans toward a second residence hall project that would house approximately 375 additional undergraduates beginning in Fall 2022.

At its winter meeting in February, the Corporation of Brown University approved the selection of the firm Deborah Berke Partners as architect for the new project, a major milestone in turning it from vision to reality.

As envisioned, the new centrally located residence hall will include two buildings featuring suites with single rooms, flexible community spaces and retail space intended to meet the needs of third- and fourth-year students, including seniors seeking to remain on campus beyond Brown’s long-standing six-semester residency requirement.

The project will advance Brown’s commitment to increasing its on-campus housing inventory, which not only strengthens the living and learning experience for undergraduates, but also alleviates the impact that the demand for off-campus rental units has upon local neighborhoods in Providence.

“We are committed to a dynamic residential experience as core to building community and a strong sense of belonging for all students at Brown,” said Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes. “In recent years, students have voiced the need for high-quality housing that is accessible and provides more community space and kitchens. This project responds directly to those goals.”

Estes said that the project will help to mitigate challenges that have arisen from having an increasing number of students living away from Brown — including the effects of rising rents on students and local residents, the range of quality among rental units, and graduate and medical students having to move farther from campus to find available housing.

We are committed to a dynamic residential experience as core to building community and a strong sense of belonging for all students at Brown. In recent years, students have voiced the need for high-quality housing that is accessible and provides more community space and kitchens. This project responds directly to those goals.

Eric Estes Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes.

“This project advances our commitment both to our students and to the local community by more effectively negotiating a range of current challenges,” he said. 

The anticipated site for the 130,000-square-foot residence hall is on Brook Street on the southern end of Brown’s campus between Charlesfield and Power streets — the project would include buildings of 80,000 and 50,000 square feet on the west and east sides of Brook Street, respectively.

A vibrant residential community

In 2016, as part of its multi-year financial planning process, Brown outlined plans to flatten the growth of its undergraduate student body, which had increased by approximately 500 students in the previous decade.

That decision recognized the importance of maintaining an undergraduate body aligned with the financial aid resources needed to ensure that a Brown education is accessible to students from every socioeconomic background, and to sustaining the personalized academic experience and residential learning environment at Brown.

The expected addition of more than 500 beds on campus through the under-construction health and wellness center and residence hall and the proposed Brook Street project comes in this context. Given the critical importance of residential life to the overall undergraduate experience at Brown, the University requires that students live on campus for six semesters — Brown is ensuring sufficient space to house all first-, second- and third-year students, aligned with the current state of enrollment.

Koren Bakkegard, who oversees the Office of Residential Life in her role as associate vice president of campus life and dean of students, said that adding these new spaces while holding undergraduate enrollment steady supports Brown’s commitment to a largely residential student experience. It also means fewer students will be dispersed in local neighborhoods.

“Undergraduate education at Brown has long been rooted in a residential campus experience in which students live and learn together,” Bakkegard said. “The knowledge that students gain from their academic engagements is only strengthened as they share perspectives, test ideas and build community in residence halls on campus.”

As envisioned, the Brook Street residence hall will also support the needs and living preferences of older undergraduates. Each floor is expected to feature shared kitchens and a series of suites, each with four single bedrooms, a shared living room and bathroom.

Other amenities envisioned on the site include a proposed 2,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space as well as shared study, meeting and community spaces in the buildings.

Award-winning architecture firm

Deborah Berke Partners, an award-winning architecture firm based in New York, will design the new residence hall. Among other projects both within higher education and for other clients, the firm’s portfolio features institutional buildings designed to complement urban neighborhood spaces. Recently, it completed a residence hall project at Dickinson College; another is currently underway at Princeton University.

Among the dozen firms that delivered proposals for the Brown project, Deborah Berke Partners stood out for its track record of creating residential spaces that support the daily lives and interactions of residents, University Architect Craig Barton said.

“Their ability to manipulate space, to bring light into space, and to think about how buildings act to support social life between the residents who will live there are just as essential to the success of this new project as how the building looks from the street,” Barton said.

The firm also distinguished itself in its ability to design institutional buildings that effectively integrate with their surrounding neighborhoods.

“We work hard at Brown to think about how to meet both our institutional mission and our obligation to be a good neighbor,” Barton said. “Deborah Berke Partners excels at balancing these needs. They’ll ensure that the block retains its qualities as a place where people both reside and also enjoy retail spaces.”

[Deborah Berke Partners's] ability to manipulate space, to bring light into space, and to think about how buildings act to support social life between the residents who will live there are just as essential to the success of this new project as how the building looks from the street.

Craig Barton University Architect

Noah Biklen, a partner in the firm with more than two decades of experience, will lead the design team. Biklen is a Class of 1997 alumnus and former Residential Peer Leader at Brown who will bring to the project his personal experience with the University’s residential life program.

“Already, this project has allowed me to reflect on my student experience of falling in love with both Brown’s campus and the city of Providence,” he said. “It feels both exciting and rewarding to have the chance to help advance Brown’s goal of establishing a new vibrant, inviting residential community that is knitted into the fabric of its surrounding neighborhood.”

Beginning in March, the team of architects will host a series of focus groups with students, including meetings with Residential Peer Leaders, the Residential Council student advisory board and the Undergraduate Council of Students. They will also hold a session open to the full student community.

“The architects are poised, ready and eager to engage with students so their ideas and perspectives will be well represented in the building they will ultimately create for them,” Bakkegard said.

The anticipated site

The proposed Brook Street building site currently houses several properties owned by Brown.

A single-story commercial building at 250 Brook St. is home to three retail establishments and a substation for the Providence Police Department. The University is engaged in discussion with each of those tenants to support their relocation efforts when current leases expire.

Two residential buildings on the site are used as rental units, with tenant agreements set to expire at the conclusion of the current semester. A third residential building on the site is vacant.

In considering new construction projects and modern adaptations of existing structures, Brown works to balance its commitment to preserving the character of its historic neighborhood with the need to provide spaces that enable the University to fulfill its mission. In evaluating this potential site, Brown commissioned a study by an external consultant to evaluate the historic, cultural and architectural significance of each of the existing structures. That analysis confirmed that none of the four buildings, which would be demolished to enable the new project, are eligible for individual listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

This month, Brown will begin a series of meetings with community stakeholders and neighborhood residents to present details on the proposed project. The input gathered during that process will inform an amendment to the University’s Institutional Master Plan, which Brown expects to submit to Providence’s City Plan Commission in March.

Barton noted that plans to minimize the environmental impact of both the residence hall and the construction process are already under development. The end result, he said, will align with the University’s pledge both to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2040 and to construct buildings that meet global sustainability standards.

“Making a sustainable building is not just about the end product but about the process in total,” Barton said. “We and our partners are thinking very carefully about how to execute this project in a way that is sustainable.”

The University’s target completion date would enable building occupancy in time for the Fall 2022 semester.