PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With a $24 million gift to fund the comprehensive renovation of the historic Wilson Hall, Brown University will transform one of its most heavily trafficked undergraduate academic buildings into a state-of-the-art facility for teaching and learning in the heart of its College Hill campus.
The gift from the Richard A. and Susan P. Friedman Family Foundation will launch a construction project that will preserve the historic exterior of the 1891 building but renovate the interior from the ground up. In recognition of the gift, the University will rename the building Friedman Hall upon the project’s completion.
With a new three-floor configuration, the building will include seven new classrooms with a mix of fixed and flexible seating configurations and cutting-edge technology, a common area for student activity and outside-the-classroom interactions, and two entryways that will create new pathways to the College Green and Simmons Quadrangle. The renovation also will make the building fully accessible to individuals with disabilities.
“Few buildings on the Brown campus symbolize our commitment to collegiate values and a student-centered approach to education as emphatically as Wilson Hall does,” Brown President Christina Paxson said. “This generous gift from the Friedman family will transform a venerable building into a modern, accessible teaching and learning space that will serve Brown undergraduates for generations to come.”
Richard A. Friedman, a 1979 undergraduate alumnus who serves as a fellow on the Corporation of Brown University, said that Wilson Hall plays an important role in the life of undergraduates, given its central location on campus and the number of students it serves.
“With the medical school’s impact, new graduate programs and growth into the Jewelry District, Brown has seen incredible expansion in both its academic programs and in the footprint of its campus,” Friedman said. “Yet the University’s strategic focus has stayed true to what is the core of Brown’s distinctiveness — the undergraduate experience. Reimagining this centrally located, in-demand academic building will enhance undergraduate education even further.”
Construction on the future Friedman Hall will begin in June 2017 with completion anticipated in time for the start of the Fall 2018 semester.
To continue to honor the legacy of George Francis Wilson’s 1887 bequest to the University, which helped to create Wilson Hall, the University has established a professorship in his name. The renovated building will feature a plaque celebrating Wilson and sharing details on the building’s history.
A modern, accessible space for classes and student activity
Since its construction in the late 19th century after the bequest from George Francis Wilson, a local benefactor, Wilson Hall has served as a home for classroom instruction spanning Brown’s undergraduate fields of study. Despite small classrooms and the lack of any significant renovation since the 1960s, it remains one of the most heavily used buildings on campus.
“If you visit Wilson Hall during the exchange of classes, so many people are pouring in and out that it can be difficult to even get into the building,” said Dean of the College Maud Mandel. “Couple that heavy use over more than a century with its location on the Main Green and it’s easy to understand why Wilson has a symbolic significance to the undergraduate learning experience at Brown.”
Upon completion, the renovated Wilson Hall will include nearly 20,000 square feet of usable space with the seven classrooms spread across three floors accounting for most of that space. A 500-square-foot seminar room will seat 24 and allow for small classes. The additional classrooms are larger spaces that can seat between 50 and 100 students, with a mix of tiered and flat seating configurations.
“This project will do much more than just refresh the old classrooms in Wilson,” Mandel said. “This will change the type of instruction that can take place in the building. Classes of this size create some challenges for Brown right now — we have a variety of courses of this size, but not enough classroom space to accommodate them.”
In addition, the renovation will resolve issues of accessibility that have become a concern, Mandel said. Wilson Hall was built before current federal standards for accessible compliance, and with no major renovations having taken place in decades, students, faculty and senior administrators have voiced the need to address accessibility. With two new entryways and an elevator, the entirety of the building will be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Anmahian Winton Architects — whose principal architect, Nick Winton, is a Brown alumnus — is designing the renovations. University Architect Collette Creppell said that the two new entryways, one on the building’s west side and one on the north, will also contribute to spontaneous interactions that have long characterized the environment in Wilson Hall, which is frequently used for student activities when classes are not in session.
“The entryways we envision will invite spaces where students can gather before or after class,” Creppell noted. “Much of the activity that happens inside this old stone building will spill outside into landscaped areas, which will encourage social interactions and create a wonderful new set of connections to the larger Brown campus.”
The design team is also working to create interior social spaces, chief among them a 900-square-foot “social commons” on the first floor.
“We’re recapturing little eddies of social space throughout the building, some of them small-scale near classroom entrances and exits,” Creppell said. “And the first-floor social commons will serve as a very open, accessible area for students to gather.”
Investing in the undergraduate experience
The gift from the Friedman Family Foundation adds to a long history of service to Brown by a family of alumni — Richard Friedman and Susan Pilch Friedman, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Brown in 1977, as well as the couple’s daughter, Jacqueline Friedman Brogadir, a Class of 2008 alumna.
In addition to his role on the Corporation, Richard Friedman is a former vice chair of the Campaign for Academic Enrichment major Brown fundraising campaign and co-chair of his 25th, 30th and 35th Brown reunion gift committees. Susan Friedman is a founding member and co-chair emerita of the Women’s Leadership Council at Brown and served as honorary chair of “120 Years of Women at Brown” in 2011-12.
In 2005, the Friedman family provided the University funds to develop a 24-hour study center — a frequently expressed student priority in the years prior — spanning the lower three floors of the Sciences Library. Today, the Friedman Study Center serves as a central gathering space on campus for undergraduates, with 27,000 square feet of study and social space, 24-hour accessibility on weekdays and direct access to expert library and technology consultants.
While the family already had a 30-year history with the University, Susan Friedman said her daughter Jacqueline’s experience at Brown provided the inspiration to support the student experience in ways that directly affected undergraduates.
“With the Friedman Study Center, our goal was to create a 24-hour space on campus for undergraduates,” Susan Friedman said. “Through the Women’s Leadership Council and Women’s Launch Pad mentoring program, we’ve worked to bring women undergraduates at Brown to the forefront and position them for success after graduation. Our involvement with Brown has become a tremendous priority.”
In addition to funding the renovation costs for the future Friedman Hall, the Friedmans’ $24 million gift will support the establishment of an endowed fund that will be used for the maintenance of the building, ensuring that Friedman Hall remains a state-of-the-art educational building into the future.
At the same time the building is renamed, Friedman Auditorium in the Metcalf Research Building will be renamed the Susan Pilch Friedman and Todd David Pilch Auditorium. The renaming honors the legacy of Todd Pilch, Susan Friedman’s brother, a Class of 1983 Brown alumnus and an anesthesiologist who lost his life at age 37 in an accident.
Metcalf is home to Brown’s Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences. With its focus on funding for education and health care, the Friedman family has long supported work related to cognitive and brain science at both Brown and at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, including a 2010 gift to Mount Sinai that established the Friedman Brain Institute, dedicated to the study of the brain and nervous system.
To meet the demand for classroom space during the future Friedman Hall’s renovations, the University will maximize use of existing spaces — particularly small seminar rooms in academic departments —implement a new scheduling program for teaching space and closely align class sizes with classroom seat counts.