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Pembroke Hall, Brown University

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1896–1897, Stone, Carpenter and Willson. 172 Meeting St.
  • (Photograph by Andrew Hope)

Pembroke Hall was the initial building for Pembroke College, Brown University's adjunct campus for women, which fully joined the university in 1971. The college, founded in 1891, took its name from Pembroke College at Cambridge University, Roger Williams's alma mater. Pembroke Hall's version of Elizabethan-Jacobean red brick and terra-cotta became popular as a Queen Anne mode for progressive school design after the firm of E. R. Robertson and J. J. Stevenson turned to the style for a series of London school buildings in the early 1880s. The ranges of tall, transomed windows, natural to the style, were ideal for lighting classrooms. In addition to these, Pembroke Hall displays a gamut of other effects which characterize these schools, including a cavernous shelter up to multi-paned doors which anticipate the amplitude of the entrance corridor inside and a tall, projecting stair bay fitted inside with window seats on the landings. Outsized gable windows illuminate the high slated and gabled attic, while (here especially well handled), the sculptured chimneys are each embossed with sunflowers, a favorite Queen Anne transliteration of the chrysanthemum disks on Japanese prints. Such features were meant to ameliorate institutional grimness. They also fit neighborhoods of bayed, gabled, and chimneyed houses, while asserting the school as the centered monument of its community. This Elizabethan-Jacobean mix was flexible as well, lending itself to as much symmetry or asymmetry, compactness or spread, plainness or adornment, as any imaginable combination of site, function, budget, and expression might dictate, while its approach to form mirrored in the nineteenth century an earlier shift in preference from medieval to Renaissance.

Like Brown's University Hall, Pembroke Hall, except for its lack of living arrangements, was designed to be multipurpose. It contained administrative offices, classrooms, reception rooms, and, in the attic, a still extant library which is rather cozier than other reading rooms on campus. In a second-floor meeting room (off the original library, and now a classroom) is a bronze plaster frieze depicting the multiple roles of educated women in modern society. All the allegorical figures are clad in flowing, liberating gowns, which also descend, in keeping with the Queen Anne style, from the somewhat overwrought medieval–early Renaissance inspiration of Pre-Raphaelitism into these ampler costumes of an idealized classical Renaissance.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Pembroke Hall, Brown University", [Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 107-108.

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