Date August 29, 2023
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On Brook Street, Brown’s newest residence halls welcome first undergraduate residents

Two new residence halls on College Hill offer flexible, sustainable living spaces for undergraduates while helping to alleviate the demand for off-campus rental units for Brown students in Providence.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Years of planning, design and construction culminated in late August, when Brown University’s two newest residence halls welcomed their first student arrivals.

Located at 250 and 259 Brook St. in Providence, respectively, the Chen Family and William and Ami Danoff residence halls will house Brown sophomores, juniors and seniors for the Fall 2023 semester and generations to come — and they were designed with those students’ specific needs in mind.

Approximately 70 students moved in late in August as they arrived a few days early on campus for athletic pre-season training, preparation to serve as Bruno Leaders (orientation volunteers) and for a variety of other reasons. They became the first students to set foot in the state-of-the-art residence halls, which feature suite-style living and a range of shared spaces and amenities that will draw students together and build community.

One of the newest residents is Brown junior Ava Filiss, a public health concentrator, who moved into Chen Family Hall last week to prepare for her role as a Bruno Leader.

“I’m a huge fan of all the flex spaces,” she said. “You can tell there was a real focus on quality and creating spaces where we can work and hang out.”

By the time the remaining students move in over Labor Day weekend, the two halls will be at full capacity, with approximately 350 students living there.

The new buildings, which are adjacent to Vartan Gregorian Quad, will help the University achieve a goal of housing the vast majority of Brown undergraduates in residence halls. In conjunction with the 162 students in Sternlicht Commons and Brown University Health and Wellness Center, which opened in 2021, the new projects have added more than 500 beds to campus, significantly reducing the number of Brown undergraduates living off campus.

In addition to alleviating the impact that student demand for off-campus rental units has upon local neighborhoods in Providence, the new residence halls illustrate a strengthened residential experience at Brown, said Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Eric Estes.

“The building aligns form and function to create a sustainable, transformative environment that supports students’ desire for greater independence within a community that simultaneously promotes interaction and engagement,” Estes said. “We know that fostering a strong sense of belonging and well-being are critical to students’ academic and personal success." 

Independence and interaction were key tenets of the design of the buildings, which Senior Associate Dean and Senior Director of Residential Life Brenda Ice said was based on students’ desire for housing that allowed them to be “alone together” — personal space to relax and unwind, as well as ample shared space to gather in community. 

The five-story residence halls feature fully furnished two-, three- and four-bedroom suites, which include a bathroom, shower stall and common area with lounge seating. Sixteen of the two-bedroom suites are equipped with a kitchenette to support students in need of or interested in preparing meals on their own.

Outside of the suites, each floor has a large and small gathering area, as well as three communal kitchens. The first floor of each building has a larger gathering space in addition to reservable spaces for meetings, programs or studying. And at 250 Brook St., Chen Family Hall will be anchored by Hazel Origin Coffee at street level, which will provide both students and local community members a new spot to convene and caffeinate.

Thematic communities and learning-by-living

Working with Brown leaders and staff in campus planning and facilities management, TenBerke led design of the buildings, and Dimeo Construction served as lead project contractor. As part of its agreement with the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council and Building Futures, Brown employed all-union labor for the project, creating approximately 800 jobs over 18 months of construction, with a minimum of 15% of all construction hours going to disadvantaged Rhode Island residents in Building Futures' apprenticeship program.

From the retail café space to publicly accessible green spaces to the scale and setback distances for each building, significant collaboration and input from local neighbors shaped the project’s final plans.

Yet collaboration within the halls extends well beyond the way the buildings’ spaces were configured and constructed. A total of 42 students will participate in immersive living and learning experiences as members of three distinct thematic housing communities — each comprising a 14-student cohort — dedicated to themes of interfaith community, sustainability and civic engagement.

When Rohan Kumaran, a Brown junior studying biophysics and economics, was surveying housing options last spring, he said he was pleasantly surprised to see not only the robust amenities in the Brook Street residence halls, but also the introduction of thematic communities.

Kumaran, a practicing Hindu involved with the Brown Meditation Community, was particularly intrigued by the interfaith housing, which was developed in partnership with the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life. As part of the cohort, Kumaran will live with students of various religious and spiritual identities who are seeking to engage with each other’s principles, traditions and practices.

“ While we share a dorm space and primarily connect with our smaller cohorts, I feel like part of something larger. ”

Rohan Kumaran Class of 2025, Interfaith Community member

“I think it’s a great opportunity to meet a culturally and religiously diverse cohort of people across class years,” Kumaran said. “While it happens every day across Brown’s campus, I’m excited to be a part of a program that makes interreligious discourse intentional.”

Over the course of the academic year, each thematic community will be required to plan and execute a community event focused on their theme. Then, the cohorts will come together at the end of the year to create a capstone project or event that connects all three.

Kumaran credits the Office of Residential Life with creating programs that, despite focusing on seemingly disparate themes, are multifaceted and drive connection both on and beyond College Hill.

“While we share a dorm space and primarily connect with our smaller cohorts, I feel like part of something larger,” he said.  

That’s something the civic engagement cohort, developed in partnership with the Swearer Center, also hopes to encourage among its participants. Residents in the cohort will demonstrate their commitment to community engagement through direct service, community-engaged learning and research, social innovation, and organizing, activism and advocacy.

Serenity Hamilton, a Brown junior concentrating in political science, was motivated to apply to be part of the cohort after completing a work-study program at a local elementary school.

“Engaging with the community was really fulfilling and made me feel more at home in Providence,” Hamilton said. “It seemed like fun to live and convene with people who shared similar interests.”

A third community, developed in partnership with the associate provost of sustainability, aims to deepen understanding of the principles and practices of economic, social and ecological sustainability.

Green living, inside and out

The sustainability cohort should feel right at home in the residence halls, which were designed and constructed to minimize environmental impact and further contribute to the University’s pledge to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2040.

Exterior shot of 250 Brook Street
250 Brook St., shown here surrounded by publicly accessible green space, is adjacent to Vartan Gregorian Quad. 

Both residence halls run fully on electric power, eliminating any need for fossil-fuel burning equipment or appliances on site. The interior of the halls is constructed with thick panels of cross-laminated timber (CLT), known as a “carbon sink” material, meaning its production emits less carbon dioxide than steel or concrete. And because it’s made of wood, CLT can both capture and store additional carbon throughout its lifetime.

Outside, the residence halls are surrounded by green space and bioswales — long, vegetated channels that slow rainwater accumulation and help filter out pollutants before water is absorbed into the ground. The outdoor green spaces are fully accessible to the public, intended to welcome members of both the Brown and Providence communities for a range of activities, from small group gatherings to quiet contemplation.

Midway through the halls’ construction at a topping-off ceremony in July 2022, William Danoff, whose generous contributions with his wife Ami Kuan Danoff supported the project, said the couple was thrilled by the prospect of many Brown students benefiting from the building in the years to come.

This is a sentiment that first-ever residents like Kumaran share.

“My suitemates and I can’t wait to make our dorm home,” he said. “We’ve also implemented a no-shoes-inside policy to dutifully serve future residents!”