Date October 31, 2022
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Brown wins historic preservation award for relocation, renovation of Sharpe House

The Providence Preservation Society hailed the University’s “creative approach” to conserving the 1873 building, which houses part of the Department of History.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The Providence Preservation Society awarded Brown University a 2022 Preservation Award for its work to relocate and restore Sharpe House, an 1873 building that now houses some of the Department of History’s classrooms, offices and communal spaces.

PPS cited the University’s “creative approach to the conservation of a historic home” — namely, its work to move the building from Angell Street to Brown Street, undertake a renovation that preserved important historical details, and create interior bridges to the adjacent Peter Green House, another transplant from Angell Street that is home to spaces for history department scholars and students.

“Through relocation and reconnection,” the Providence Preservation Society wrote in an award statement, the two buildings now have “renewed purpose… The result of this project is a memorable experience for students and faculty of the history department.”

The biennial Preservation Awards recognize people, projects and initiatives that represent excellence in historic preservation, design and planning, highlighting those that enhance Providence’s vibrancy while also maintaining its unique historical character. Other honorees this year include an affordable housing project across the West End, Smith Hill and Silver Lake, a neighborhood coffee shop in Smith Hill, a nonprofit dedicated to urban farming in Upper South Providence and libraries in downtown Providence and College Hill. The winners were selected by a volunteer jury of experts from New York, including neighborhood developers and conservation contractors.

“Providence Preservation Society believes that historic preservation is not just about buildings and architecture — it’s about people, neighborhoods and the ways that these buildings serve them,” said Brent Runyon, the organization’s executive director. “This year’s Preservation Award winners represent the best examples of that principle in action, preserving our architectural history while breathing new life into our communities.”

PPS will honor the award winners at a Tuesday, Nov. 15, event in Providence.

From the beginning, University leaders had preservation in mind when they devised the Sharpe House move and makeover. The building has long been home to half of the history department’s classroom and office space — with the other half a block away in Peter Green House. By moving and renovating Sharpe House, Brown was able to create a newly unified home for the department, all while preserving a building it has owned since the 1920s.

The project gave Sharpe and Peter Green houses “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, at a dedication event in 2020. “It’s not luck or coincidence that best describes what transpired in the last two years — it’s intentionality and teamwork.”

Originally built in the late 19th century, Sharpe House and Peter Green House were neighbors on Angell Street for 135 years. The two buildings, once private homes, later became part of the University, eventually housing classrooms and office space for more than 100 faculty, staff and graduate students associated with the Department of History.

The department became two houses divided when, in 2007, crews moved Peter Green House to Brown Street to build the Walk, a series of linked green spaces that intersect campus. Thirteen years later, the University unveiled plans to build a new performing arts center at the site of Sharpe House — so crews wheeled the house to Brown Street, renovated its core and created physical links between it and Peter Green House, creating a refreshed, unified complex for the history department.

Self said that the project was a collaborative effort between 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. The latter ensured the building was fully accessible and up to code, updated air circulation and added several innovative communal spaces.

“It was such a rewarding challenge to take these two buildings and make them modern and accessible, while still honoring the Victorian-era construction,” said Albert Garcia, co-owner and principal at KITE, in 2020.