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Brown has the dubious distinction of creating the first high-rise library anywhere. A form contrary to use, it is disliked by librarians who have to contend with moving books in circulation much farther than those in horizontally organized buildings. The escalating price of real estate in a highly desirable neighborhood surely played a role in the university’s decision to go vertical, but Warner, Burns, Toan & Lund’s fourteen-story, reinforced-concrete shaft overwhelms everything around it, especially as rendered in the then-hip Brutalist architectural vocabulary. Buildings like this have given reinforced concrete an undeservedly bad reputation, especially locally. But this certainly addresses Brown’s ambition in committing its resources to scientific and medical expansion in the last quarter of the twentieth century. In some ways this building initiated the dilemma in which Brown continues to find itself enmeshed in the early twenty-first century: an ambitious program demanding extensive expansion in an already dense area. Unlike several of the earlier libraries (especially those built before the twentieth century discussed above), this building was predicated upon continued expansion (and also on continued replacement of rapidly outdated texts), and its incorporated shelf space far more extensive than needed upon completion. The open space to the south and the east somewhat mitigates the building’s heavy, looming presence, especially with its landscaping now maturing. But make sure you catch it from its all-too-many distant viewing perspectives, where it evokes the image of Soviet-era paneláks that despoil even more dramatically the skylines of Eastern European cities. This building, and this guide’s next entry, appropriately adjacent, represent the absolute nadir of Brown’s architectural patronage.

– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture

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© 2023 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved. Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.