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English Department at Brown University

The expansion of the historic Wheaton House creates a new place and creates a place and identity for the Department of English, the largest academic department at Brown University, which had been scattered around the campus in various buildings. The site is a mixed residential and university neighborhood in Providence’s historic College Hill, adjacent to Brown University’s Main Green.

The primary design objective was to design a contextual response to the existing 9,000 sf Wheaton House while reestablishing Fones Alley as a defined urban space. The Samuel B. Wheaton House was built as a single-family residence in 1850 at the corner of Brown and Angell Streets. The 2.5 story brick Italianate structure was originally built for a wholesale grocer and later was populary named the Carr House when it became the home of Carr’s Catering, a well-known institution on the East Side. A new 29,000 sf addition on the Wheaton House integrates the large program sensitively into the campus and residentially-scaled neighborhood.

Lead-coated-copper clad connectors are recessed between sensitively-scaled brick pavilions to preserve the integrity of the original house. The thoughtful massing of the design reduces the scale of the project within a constricted site and neighborhood.

The building’s halves, housing the English Department and Creative Writing program, are conceptually bridged across Fones Alley by mirroring entry arcades and window bays. The two buildings fill in the formerly nondescript end of Fones Alley and reinstitute the mews-like character of the alley.

The largest interior room is the black-box theater for lectures and student productions. An upper gallery provides three-dimensional use of the space as well as a sound and light booth. Other theatre components include a “green” room, dressing rooms and storage. A total of 49 faculty offices and 18 teaching assistant offices are included in the building’s plan along with a “smart classroom” that utilizes the latest technology and flexible seating arrangements adaptable for traditional teaching methods.

In keeping with Gertrude Stein’s quotation on the building, “And then there is using everything,”... LLB achieved an integration of modern and historic elements into a harmonious whole.

Photography by Warren Jagger Photography

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