Buildings We Never Built

By Emily Gold Boutilier / May / June 2002
June 30th, 2007
Much is known about the University's varied architecture. But what about the buildings it chose not to build? Jacob Reidel '02, an aspiring architect, studies the architecture Brown has dismissed.

"It's something that's usually ignored," says Reidel, whose detective work has unearthed a slew of rejected design proposals. "But it gives you a context." Among the discards: a low-lying sciences library, an addition to the John Hay Library, and a scheme to place dorm rooms under the football stands.

In the case of the Sciences Library, Reidel explains, architects in the early 1960s actually drafted plans for a shorter building, but Brown officials insisted on one that would dominate the skyline. And a famous name was no insurance against rejection. In the first decade of the twentieth century, landscape architect Frederick Olmsted Jr., the son of the designer of, among other things, New York City's Central Park, floated a plan to build the John Hay Library on Lincoln Field and advocated, unsuccessfully, for keeping the John Carter Brown Library off the Main Green. Reidel says that Olmsted was trying to create a more cohesive design concept on the Green, but the University opted for an eclectic mix. In the late 1960s I.M. Pei designed a geo-math building for the block bounded by Manning, Thayer, George, and Brook streets, but somehow the money to build it was never acquired. Reidel claims to have found some evidence that the University failed to send in the funding application on time.

As for the plan to put dorms under the grandstands, Reidel says it was the "fantasy idea" of a local architect during the 1920s. The proposal called for two-room suites - complete with fireplaces - to be constructed as part of a new football stadium.

Reidel unearthed these gems while completing a Royce fellowship last summer, during which he dug through University archives and the Olmsted archive in Brookline, Massachusetts. Under the guidance of visiting professor Sibel Zandi-Sayek, Reidel has turned his research into a senior thesis titled "Unbuilt Brown." He also hopes to publish a booklet on these unrealized buildings.

"Only by studying these things," Reidel says, "can the environment we live in today really make sense."

In the fall Reidel will join Teach for America in New York City. In a few years he hopes to go to architecture school.

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May / June 2002