PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Brown University’s new $40 million Granoff Center for the Creative Arts was built around the concept of collaboration, including venues for performances and art exhibits, as well as classroom space for subjects as varied as robotics and music. The Ivy League school celebrates the center’s opening on Thursday.
Richard Fishman, a sculptor and professor of visual art at Brown, who was involved in the building’s development, said school officials hoped to bring people together with the building’s design.
"The arts touching out into all the areas of the university: science, technology and the humanities. That’s what it’s about," he said.
The 38,815-square-foot, three-story concrete and steel building is covered in zinc on three sides. Its facade is mostly made up of windows that look out onto a green swath of the Brown campus where there is space to display art. Inside, the building is split vertically down the middle by glass, and floors on either side are offset half a story so people can look diagonally up or down and see what’s happening in adjacent spaces.
Architect Charles Renfro, of the New York-based firm Diller Scofidio and Renfro, said the designers wanted the building to engage the public life of the university. They also hoped to make it available to the surrounding community.
"Unlike a lot of the buildings at Brown, it’s a very public building," Renfro said. "It’s about production and presentation."
The building sits along one of Providence’s main thoroughfares, Angell Street, making it easily accessible to the public. A back entrance along Angell opens to a small courtyard, adjacent to a cafe, and there are plans to put tables and chairs there, Renfro said. From there, people will be able to see art displayed on a large wall through the building’s windows.
In the front of the building, there is an outdoor amphitheater wired for sound and with a movie screen, which can be used for performances and summertime movies. It looks through windows into a 218-seat recital hall, which Renfro calls the jewel of the building. It was designed to accommodate many kinds of performances, from lectures to music.
From the auditorium, which sits at the lowest point of the building, one can look up into the building’s first floor Cohen Gallery, its main space for displaying art. On view until March 20 is Loop, an exhibition by the sculptor Julianne Swartz, who uses commonplace materials and technology, such as electrical wires and mirrors, in her work. It is free and open to the public, as will be all future exhibits.
Those who look up from the gallery will see into the Physical Media Lab, a shop space that can be used for activities such as robotics or other work. In January, it began hosting its first class: experimental musical instrument design.
Diagonally above the Physical Media Lab is another classroom space, a Media Lab, for computer production. Across from and above that lab are two studios that can be used for a variety of art forms, such as dance or visual media.
The building also boasts a recording studio. In the back of the building are smaller project studios designed for individual, rather than collective, work.
The building’s many windows can be covered with blinds or shades to create privacy, or to save energy during the summer. The school hopes to attain gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program.
Renfro said he sees the building as "open source," a term most often heard in reference to software that can be changed and improved by users, because of the many possibilities in how to use the space and the nature of the work students and faculty will be engaged in there. Fishman said it’s still a work in progress that will evolve as people use it.