Clog, Friedman Study Center, 2013


“Brown Study: Rejuvenating a Brutalist Library”
Stephen Cassell and Kim Yao

The Friedman Study Center occupies the bottom three floors of the Sciences Library, or “SciLi,” a Brutalist landmark tower on the Brown University campus. In 2005, when Brown commissioned our project, the SciLi’s dated furnishings and worn interiors had diminished its stature on campus. It was not a popular place to gather or study. In fact, the upper stacks were best known to the student body as a destination for rendezvous, day and night.

The Brutalism of the SciLi is so bold, so stark that ARO was free to re-work its interior architecture as if on a palimpsest. Its strong formal character and materiality are preserved as a background for our interventions. Our design is largely organizational,not architectural, as we created few new rooms or walls. Level A, the SciLi’s lowest floor, contains a 24/7 study commons where solitary students work alongside bigger, collaborative groups. We used the existing architecture to inform program (overall locations) and organization (individual vs. collaborative work organized by sound level, also in response to courtyards and daylight). Colorful textiles, translucent partitions, and stylish furniture re-contextualize the SciLi’s omnipresent board-formed concrete walls and columns. Landscape by Michael Van Valkenburg Associates pulls life towards Level A’s four courtyards. Interior lighting calls attention to the marvelously board formed concrete. Our interventions produced various microclimates within the study commons to nudge interdisciplinary encounters and nourish an exchange of ideas between students.

Just as the SciLi’s expansive concrete surfaces bear the imprint of its beton brut, board-formed construction, ARO thought the creation of the Friedman Study Center might also make an impression. Working with graphic designer Scott Stowell, ARO assembled a series of images pulled from publications in the University Library’s collection. We silkscreened these to concrete surfaces, often concealing them from immediate view. A call number below the image prompts students to investigate the image’s source in the Library’s online catalog, JOSIAH. Like tattoos, they communicate the building’s identity. And like graffiti, many of the graphics are humorous. One image, placed on a bathroom mirror, references a Lacanian text. Elsewhere is a graphic of statistics on drug abuse by high school students.

This strategy of rejuvenation works to highlight the SciLi’s best Brutalist attributes—the ephemeral quality of light in its spaces, the strong materiality of its concrete—while also stirring new life and activities within. If the appeal of the SciLi’s landmark Brutalism is largely lost on contemporary and future students, then the interactivity and roving curiosity the Friedman Study Center promotes is not. It makes an impression.