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From the front lawn of the Brown campus is visible each of the buildings constructed to house the university’s principal library, beginning, above, with Manning. The others are located across Waterman and Prospect Streets from the main campus. Robinson (as the place is now known, named for the university president at the time of its construction, 1875-78), at the northeast corner of those two streets, culminated an almost thirty-year campaign by university librarians for a larger library, as Manning had become jammed with books by the late 1840s. This vivid High Victorian Gothic building combines brick, slate, stone, terra cotta, and wrought iron into a highly picturesque pyramidal composition enclosing an unusual plan that represented the most sophisticated mid-nineteenth-century thinking about library organization. Architects Walker & Gould handsomely realized Brown-librarian Reuben Gould’s panoptic plan, with books stacks located in wings around the central reading room that is focused on the librarian’s desk at the very center. It recalled similar schemes, both unrealized and completed, for Paris’s Bibliothèque Royale (1835), Williams College’s Lawrence Library (1846-47), London’s British Museum (1854-57), and Princeton’s Chancellor Green Library (1873). The limitation of this plan, ironically enough, is its inability to accommodate expansion, the very thing that necessitated this building, as well as the one that followed. While conversion to departmental use has closed off the book-stack wings, the overall interior spatial configuration is still comprehensible, an experience enhanced in recent years by the re-introduction of a portion of the interior’s original polychrome paint scheme.

– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture

© 2020 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved. Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.