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01.12.2011
Ivy Arts Incubator Mixes Creative Media
Diller Scofidio + Renfro completing creative center at Brown wrapped in glass and pleated zinc
The glass facade of Brown's Creative Center showcases interdisciplinary arts in section.
Courtesy Diller, Scofidio + Renfro

Diller, Scofido + Renfro are quietly completing their first freestanding building since the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Recent critically acclaimed projects like the High Line and the lengthy renovation of the Lincoln Center campus have shown their deft handling of existing buildings and infrastructure, as well as their ability to rethink and layer public and private programs. The new Perry and Marty Granoff Center for Creative Arts at Brown University has allowed the firm to approach both architectural and programmatic goals starting from a clean slate.

The building will be open to students and faculty from all departments, with no single discipline calling it home. DS+R calls the building “open source architecture.” The roughly 40,000-square-foot project includes studios, a recital hall, recording studios, and a multimedia lab. It has a single traditional classroom. “A lot of the programming of the building is up for grabs. It’s a calculated risk on the part of the university,” said Charles Renfro, a principal at DS+R. “The provocation of the building is that it will lead to new kinds of work.”

Diller Scofidio + Renfro's arts center at Brown.Eight levels are stacked inside the four story building connected by a communal stair.

After looking at precedents of all types of art spaces, the architects returned to the iconic art spaces that emerged in the middle of the last century: the loft. “The building is quite simple. We were trying to think very directly about what artists and performers need. The building is a series of stacked loft floorplates, which is still the best type of space for creative production,” Renfro said.

With an entirely sheer wall of double-glazing facing the campus, the building is supposed to read as a section, with all of the shared performance spaces on display. “Ever since our proposal for Eyebeam, we have been looking at the spatial possibilities of architecture that performs,” he said.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro's arts center at Brown.Expected to open this semester, Brown's Creative Arts Center is a series of stacked loft spaces.

Informal meetings will happen on the staircase between the eight levels (within the four-story building). The staircase had extended landings, outfitted with seating and low tables, so it will function as a series of lounges. “The program is quite tight, so we teased these casual spaces out of the circulation areas,” Renfro said.  “We never think of circulation spaces as neutral.”

The sides of the building are clad in zinc, which wraps around the back of the building with the more private artist studios. The zinc cladding is pulled up at the corners, as if it were pleated, to create openings for windows in the studios. “The building changes as you move past it,” he said.

Given the opportunity to start from scratch, Renfro said they were pleased to keep this project simple. “It’s quieter, more elegant, than some of the more muscular moves in our other recent projects,” he said. The building is expected to open to students this semester.

Alan G. Brake