Built in 1971, the Sciences Library at Brown University is the kind of building you see at a lot of colleges: big, bold, and modern, but not warm or comfortable—and not well loved by many people on campus. In 2006, Brown decided to convert the first three levels of the building into the Susan P. and Richard A. Friedman Study Center. Open 24 hours a day, the center offers a variety of spaces where students can work, gather, and collaborate.
Architecture Research Office designed the center and Open was asked to design its signage. After seeing that many of the original signs from 1971 were still there (and looked great), Open used similar forms and typography to create retro-futuristic wayfinding signage that uses new materials and conforms to current accessibility guidelines.
While working on the signage, Open discovered something surprising. Thinking about a nickname for the center that could be used for a logo or identity system, the team suggested “Brown Study.” As it turns out, the phrase “Brown Study” is in the dictionary—it means a kind of absent-mindedness that comes from being lost in thought.
Inspired by this, Open added a new kind of signage to the center: words and images from the Brown library system, silkscreened directly on the walls and labeled with their card-catalog numbers. Some are serious and some are funny, and the more time you spend in the center, the more of them you’ll discover. The result is a system that helps users find their way through the center while adding unexpected elements of discovery and delight.
“A very cool and unself-important program. Drawings on the walls and the casualness of the program acknowledge students as frequent users, with inside jokes like naming a space ‘Brown Study’ and including its definition complete with comments on its use since the time of Ben Johnson.”
Scott Stowell (principal in charge); Robert A. Di Leso Jr., Serifcan Ozcan (designers)
Design Communications Ltd.