Filed Under Architecture

A Dash of Modernism In the Middle of the Woods

If you walk into the woods of East Greenwich, you would hear the shouts and laughter of children from the forest. Where is the sound coming from? A few more steps later, you would encounter not Hansel and Gretel's House, but surprisingly, a raw-looking concrete, modern building which would not be out of place in an urban setting. Its “straight-forward geometry, executed in warm, red-brown brick framed by textured ‘form board’ concrete” projects a peculiar impression of veiled modernism in nature.

The building is East Greenwich High School. The school was originally Kent Academy but later became East Greenwich Academy--a private Methodist boarding school. The building was transformed into a public school in 1942-1943 when its stockholders handed it over to the town of East Greenwich because of plummeting enrollment in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II. It was moved to the current location in 1967 from 100 Cedar Avenue in the course of a major transformation by The Architects Collaborative (TAC), a leading architecture firm at the time based in Boston, MA. Most if not all of the original buildings at the site were demolished in the 1960s for the construction of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

TAC, as its name indicates, consisted of eight talented architects including Walter Gropius--a founder of the famous Bauhaus school of architecture in Germany. In addition to having Gropius on staff, the firm had the unique privilege of having two women architects as founding members, Sarah (“Sally”) P. Harkness and Jean B. Fletcher. Neither female architects nor architectural collaboratives are unusual these days. However, TAC's team-based approach was distinctively progressive considering the fact that individualism was the prevailing ideology in the profession at the time. Its inclusion of women and the fact that they were part of the leadership attest to the firm's forward-looking nature.

Despite East Greenwich High school's manufactured materials such as concrete and brick, the building “complements the landscape’s carefully preserved random quality” and successfully achieved an ideal integration of natural and manmade form. After a series of renovations in 1967, 2004, 2010, and 2012, the building is finally filled with the energy and dynamism of children again.

Images

A view of the completed East Greenwich High School building
A view of the completed East Greenwich High School building In a similar way to TAC’s other school buildings, the team carefully combined red bricks and concrete as the building's primary material. The façade of the building acts as a unexpected canvas for shadows of the trees surrounding the building. In fact, TAC attempted to integrate acoustical and lighting elements within an exposed structure. Source: The Architects Collaborative: international. Cambridge, MA: Architects Collaborative, Inc. 1992. Date: 1967
A view of the completed East Greenwich High School building
A view of the completed East Greenwich High School building In a similar way to TAC’s other school buildings, the team carefully combined red bricks and concrete using them as a primary building material. The façade of the building acts as a nice canvas for shadows of the trees surrounding the building. In fact, TAC attempted to integrate acoustical and lighting elements within an exposed structure. Source: The Architects Collaborative: international. Cambridge, MA: Architects Collaborative, Inc. 1992. Date: After 1967
A print of Greenwich School in the 19th century
A print of Greenwich School in the 19th century The print page gives us a sense of how East Greenwich Academy sometime presumably in the early or mid-19th century might have looked like. Source: Tolman, William Howe. “History of Higher Education in Rhode Island, Issue 18.” (Based on his dissertation presented to the Board of University Studies of John Hopkins University for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 1894) Date: 1890
The view of Greenwich Academy in the 19th  century
The view of Greenwich Academy in the 19th century The print page gives us a sense of how East Greenwich Academy sometime presumably in the early or mid-19th century might have looked like. Source: Tolman, William Howe. “History of Higher Education in Rhode Island, Issue 18.” (Based on his dissertation presented to the Board of University Studies of John Hopkins University for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 1894) Date: 1877
A group picture of The Architecture Collaborative
A group picture of The Architecture Collaborative Members of The Architects Collaborative posing on a stairway in Harkness Commons. Left to right: Sarah Harkness, Jean B. Fletcher, Robert S. McMillan, Norman C. Fletcher, Walter Gropius, John C. Harkness, Benjamin Thompson, and Louis A. McMillen. The photograph was released by Harvard University News Office on Friday, October 6, 1950. Source: Harvard University, Frances Loeb Library, Special Collection Creator: Fleisher, Walter R. Date: 1950

Location

300 Avenger Drive, East Greenwich, RI 02818

Metadata

He Ri Kwon, “A Dash of Modernism In the Middle of the Woods,” Rhode Tour, accessed May 22, 2024, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/266.