Higher Aims, Highest Collaboration

Arthur F. & Patricia Ryan Center for Business Studies, Providence College
Providence, Rhode Island

The new Arthur F. and Patricia Ryan Center for Business Studies is a cornerstone of Providence College. The project embodies a new beginning at the 100-year-old institution while also acting as a connector, uniting the east and west campuses and preserving the historic Dore Hall. 

The approximately 75,000 sf project reinvents the three-story student residential building in response to Providence College's desire to create a “community of innovation and impact." SMMA’s design for the School of Business embraces the metaphor of crossroads and intersections: this layered concept operates on three levels in defining an environment supportive of the rich and complex network of relationships that foster community and the development of leadership skills essential to business innovation and ethical social action.



Occupying the “pedagogical crossroads” between the preceding paradigm — familiarly manifested in the ubiquitous tiered case-study classroom — and new initiatives in active, team, and project challenge-based learning, the design provides faculty offices, study spaces, and a popular café and kitchen. It anchors a new addition that includes a two-story atrium, finance lab, lecture hall, active classrooms, and student breakout spaces. Since completed in early 2017, the atrium has become one of the most popular student spaces on campus due to its open daylit-gathering and dynamic meeting spaces. It also serves as a wonderful showcase for the historic Dore Hall’s west-facing façade, providing a modern update to the classic brick and stone building where so many students had called home for years.

The Ryan Center is the first new building to unite the east and west campuses providing a significant transformative presence. It is not only woven into the fabric and history of the site, but is also the academic nexus of the eastern half of campus. The linear double-height atrium engages­ the campus to the north and south through its transparent ends and expands the intersection of social encounters beyond the formal classroom environments and the school itself.

A Landscape of Learning

As an outward extension of the atrium, an inviting raised and planted terrace provides an outdoor cafe where seating overlooks the campus Arts Walk immediately to the south and links the Business School community with the residential hall and theater quadrangles beyond. The design concepts expanded on the idea of the Atrium, pushing beyond the notion of a static "declarative" space of formal arrival and welcoming toward a dynamic interrogative landscape of learning and possibilities.

The serendipitous energy of the campus courtyards is extended into the building itself. This new landscape — blending exterior terraces, interior stair/amphitheaters, ramps, and eddies of meeting places — unites the two flanking masonry volumes of program accommodations: the renovated Dore Hall for the small-grain/cellular spaces, and the new addition devoted to larger formal learning spaces.

The project was never conceived as a “building addition,” but rather a new entity formed of complementary elements that will add its resources to the entire campus.


  • Design drawings
  • Design drawings

Open, Daylit, Inspirational

Key elements include a welcoming stair that is also a small seating area and feature two bridges connecting parallel volumes. These bridges efficiently accommodate faculty offices (in a re-purposed former residential hall at the east) and two floors of learning spaces (new long-span construction in a curved bar at the west).

Circulation along the classroom wing is open to the Atrium. Atop the transparent elliptical data lab is an open laptop lounge — “The Mesa” — while the ground floor provides café and lounge seating overlooking the south campus green. This flexible area can be configured to accommodate 335 seats for special events.

More than a privatized daylight-gathering circulation area, the Atrium creates a complementary interior landscape of fixed destinations and dynamic meeting spaces.

Patterns for Light

The architecture combines a scholastic rigor of expression — as in the articulation between the parallel masonry volumes and intervening transparent envelopes — with unexpected provocations, notably the inflections of the curved geometry of the classroom wing and the Atrium’s episodic halo skylights bringing an ever-changing pattern of daylight into the building’s heart.


Preserving History


This new heart of campus is directly associated with and inspired by the former western main entrance, Harkins Hall – the college’s first building that served as the archetype for a century of growth in both footprint and influence and has remained an icon on the campus for over a century. It also evokes a history deeply rooted in the City of Providence: it repurposes Dore Hall — one of nine buildings on Providence College’s east campus that originated as part of the original Providence City Hospital in the early 1900s. To establish its significance, the Ryan Center echoes Harkins Hall’s architectural integrity through its geometry and design.

It is also a feat of preservation: it re-uses existing materials while simultaneously bringing Dore Hall up to modern standards. The legacy building’s masonry was cleaned and repointed alongside cleaning, patching, or replacing the limestone water table as needed. Its cornice stones were cleaned or replaced with precast concrete to match the building’s profile. Windows were replaced including steel lintels when required. The exterior wall was insulated with mineral wool, and a new roof and exterior fire stairs were installed. Finally, a supplemental floor structure, new MEP/FP systems, and a new elevator were seamlessly introduced to the building.

Highlights from the opening day of the Ryan Center for Business Studies. Credit Providence College.