Brown University aspires to be a destination for students worldwide who want to fully integrate performing, visual, and literary arts into a complete liberal arts education. Implementing this aspiration, the Brown Arts Initiative (BAI) was created in 2017 to support all things experimental, forward-thinking, and cutting-edge in the arts; to facilitate collaboration across arts departments and other academic fields; and to engage activist artists and scholars whose work responds to contemporary issues.
Sited on The Walk—the campus’ main north-south pedestrian connector—in a locus of venues forming a new Brown Arts District, the new Performing Arts Center (Brown PAC) is the physical manifestation of BAI’s vision. Stitching the original Brown campus with the Pembroke College campus—assimilated by Brown in 1971—Brown PAC acts an incubator for both traditional and experimental art and media, and establishes a new campus center defined by the arts.
BAI’s manifold users require a space with radical spatial, acoustic, and technical flexibility—transforming amongst End Stage, Experimental Media, Recital, and Flat Floor configurations—while maintaining intimacy—typically 350 audience members or smaller. However, Brown also lacks a dedicated performance space suitable for many medium and large ensembles that already exist across academic programs and student organizations. Brown PAC must meet these needs as well, most notably an Orchestra configuration for joint performances by Brown’s renowned 100-piece symphony orchestra and 80-singer chorus, with audiences up to 650.
To house these five varied stage-audience configurations (and a wide range of potential secondary modes) within a single space, Brown PAC invents a new performance typology. All six surfaces of its main hall ‘shoebox’ modulate physically and/or acoustically, through automated and manually assisted performance equipment. These include (walls) five seating gantries and a perimeter ring of retractable acoustic curtains; (ceiling) forty adjustable acoustic reflector panels, seven utility battens, and three lighting bridges; and (floor) two stage lifts, three seating wagon lifts, and numerous stage risers and seating wagons.
As an embodiment of Brown’s commitment to infusing the arts into all intellectual pursuits, a 8.5 foot tall clearstory slices through the entire building at stage level, allowing—when desired—performances, rehearsals, and research to spill out onto the campus, and for the campus to vicariously engage the constant creation of art. Light through the clearstory can be completely blocked by a perimeter Venetian-style drape. Additional scrims and blackouts can be installed inboard of the glass to negate interior reflections or create a visually-controlled circulation raceway—within the acoustic volume—for performers and stage-hands during performances, and audience procession before and after performances.