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Renovation Complete: Brown University Churchill House and Rites and Reason Theatre

October 27, 2023

Marble Fairbanks Architects with Mario Gooden Studio

transform Brown’s hub for Africana Studies

NEW YORK, NY – October 27, 2023 – After nearly half a century as the cornerstone of Brown University’s Department of Africana Studies, the Churchill House and Rites and Reason Theatre have undergone an exciting transformation. Today’s dedication ceremony celebrates the renovation and expansion work led by Marble Fairbanks Architects in partnership with Mario Gooden Studio.

The revitalization of the building supports the plan for continued growth in scholarship in the African Diaspora and underscores the significance of the historic Churchill House and Rites and Reason Theatre as the home for this research. Having reopened to eager students and faculty in the beginning of the fall semester, the official dedication ceremony is part of a weekend of events honoring the legacy of those who have been part of the Africana Studies and Rites and Reason Theatre family.

Originally constructed in 1907 for the Rhode Island Women’s Club, the Churchill House has since undergone a significant evolution. A two-story addition, finished in a varied palette of black and gray steel panels, projects beyond the historic brick facade of the original building, adding new faculty and student lounge spaces that are visually connected to the street. The addition also increases faculty offices, ensuring space for future growth.

The building entry is reoriented from the historic approach off Angell Street to a new entrance along The Walk, a vibrant campus green space that connects Churchill House to the arts district. The new Churchill House outdoor terrace makes the most of the unique location, inviting those who pass by to pause, take a seat, or step inside. Enhancing visibility of the Department of Africana Studies on campus, and improving accessibility from the street, Marble Fairbanks’ renovation and addition supports Brown University as it works toward goals of diversity and inclusion, sustainability and wellness, and community.

Expanding space for departmental programming and events, the reconfigured entrance leads into a new lobby, where a newly uncovered existing skylight is visible above a double height connecting stair. A new Living Room on the entry level provides space for casual meetings and features flexible furniture and state-of-the-art technology to host a variety of events ranging from informal conversations to intimate organized talks.

The historic Rites and Reason Theatre, among the longest-running Black theater companies in the United States, has been completely updated with enhanced lighting, refined acoustics, and upgraded seating, and new back of house support spaces. The lobby’s shared wall with the theater features a pattern of varied strips of black and gray that mirror the pattern on the facade of the addition, forging connections between the building’s interior and exterior.

This project is the result of a collaboration with a distinguished group of colleagues and a visionary client team. We worked with Brown University’s Department of Africana Studies, the Rites and Reason Theatre, the Department of Planning, Design & Construction, among many others including Shawmut Design and Construction as our Design/Build partner. Our expanded design team includes Mario Gooden Studio, R.G. Vanderweil, Woodard and Curran, Odeh Engineering, GZA Environmental, Stimson Landscape Architects, Jensen Hughes, Andelman and Lelek, Siemens Industries, Building Enclosure Science, Threshold Acoustics, Tillitson Design Associates, Construction Specifications Inc., and Theatre Projects.

Marble Fairbanks Architects

Marble Fairbanks Architects is an architecture, design and research office located in New York, founded in 1990 by Scott Marble and Karen Fairbanks. The office is committed to highly innovative design through research and analysis of the core issues surrounding each project. Recent work focuses on cultural and institutional projects for public and private clients including U.S. General Services Administration, The National Park Service, Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, Queens Library, Hunter College, Haverford College, Columbia University, The Museum of Modern Art, The New School, Princeton University, Brown University and New York University. A research-based practice, Marble Fairbanks is at the forefront of discussions concerning digital technology, integrated design processes, and education. The firm is the recipient of numerous local, national, and international design awards. The work of Marble Fairbanks is published regularly in books and journals and has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York where their drawings are part of the museum’s permanent collection.