Thomas Street, in Providence, backdropped by looming One Citizens Plaza. (Alamy)
In the wake of the decline and fall of the Fogarty Building, in Providence, GoLocalProv.com ran an important list: “Providence’s Fogarty Building Demolished, What Other Buildings Should Go?” It includes a slide show featuring a set of buildings that should go: the Brown Science Library; One State Street; Brown’s Pizzitola Sports Center; the Brook Street Citizens; South Hall, overlooking RISD Beach; Roger Williams’s downtown campus (formerly the 38 Studios office on Empire); and Brown’s Watson Center.
That’s a pretty sad set of buildings. The only one on which I’d demur is South Hall, which is set back from Benefit Street by RISD Beach (that sward of grass). It was designed by the late, great Bill Warner in his early years as an architect, and is really not all that bad. It is postmodern – that is, traditional without any real confidence in the beauty of traditional. I would give it a pass, largely because there are (alas!) so many far worse buildings that did not get onto the GoLocal list.
GoLocal’s death panel for ugly local buildings generally guillotined the right kind of architecture. All except South Hall are blatantly modernist. But its deliberations left out a major factor, which is location, location, location. Some of their targets are buildings few people know about because they are not prominently located. The best example of this is Brown’s Pizzitola center, which you will see only if you drive down Alumni Street, off of Hope. There is an even worse building, actually a house, on the other side of the street. I can’t remember its address. You will know it when you see it.
I would add more buildings that deserve to go because they are always poking us in the eye. They are Old Stone Square, the GTECH Building, One Citizens Plaza, the RISD Art Museum’s Chace Center, Brown’s List Art Center, the Garrahy Judicial Complex on Dorrance, Johnson & Wales’s Broadcast House on Dorrance, and the fourth Howard Building – the oldest of these blotches – also on Dorrance, next to Kennedy Plaza.
There are others, but these are the most objectionable, and except for the Science Library are worse than any on GoLocal’s list – not because they are necessarily uglier but because the location of these plug-uglies (or pug-uglies, as the Brits put it) forces them into our face more often.
I did not include Brown’s new Granoff Arts Center because its location a bit off of Thayer Street shields it from view for all but a moment after turning right on Angell Street. I did not include any of downtown’s modernist skyscrapers because, while ugly enough to qualify, they help form the Providence skyline and are largely unobstreperous. I did not include the Waterplace Luxury Condo twins or the Blue Cross/Blue Shield offices that, along with GTECH, help to ruin Waterplace Park. Consider them part of the overall GTECH package, since they were all inspired by the Capital Center Commission’s inexplicable descent into modernism after Providence Place was built. Likewise, a whole new section of town, the I-195 corridor (now called the Innovation & Design District, or something like that), seems as if it will specialize in buildings designed to turn one’s stomach. Two are already up: a new JWU engineering school and a new and unusually horrid garage at the so-called South Street Landing.
Notwithstanding all the buildings that should have been included, GoLocal is to be commended for its list. Providence is considered a beautiful city precisely because it has so few modernist buildings. GoLocal quotes the esteemable Nate Storring to the effect that demolishing a building like the Fogarty “leaves a gaping hole in our architectural record.” No, it does not. Photos and texts will form an archive that will fill any hole in our architec- tural record much more pleasantly than the Fogarty ever did. Rather, filling the actual hole with a better building (if that happens) will heal Fountain Street. Most of the buildings on GoLocal’s list, if they were torn down, could be replaced with almost anything and their streets would improve.
The purpose of architecture is not to turn Providence into a museum with curators making sure that even the worst looking buildings are preserved. Architecture, at its best, should seek to create places that human beings love to be in. For decades, architects have largely failed to recognize this, and the public suffers as a result. Here’s to GoLocalProv.com for taking a courageous step in articulating the need for more beauty in our city’s future.
I have led this post with a picture accompanying the GoLocal list that seems intended to suggest that One Citizens Plaza, looming up in the background of Thomas Street’s elegant Art Club buildings, improves rather than diminishes the view. Below are the eight buildings that should be added to GoLocal’s list, in the order they are listed above.