Kansas City vs. New England

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Downtown, with Union Station, forefront; Power & Light Building just left of center above it. (Wikipedia)

Today, Kansas City, Mo., hosts the New England Patriots in their battle with the Kansas City Chiefs for the championship of the American Football Conference, at 6:40 p.m., and the right to represent the AFC (N.E. for the third time in a row) in Super Bowl LIII. Win or lose, New England – chiefly Boston and Providence, founded in the early 17th century – will have already won the beauty contest with Kansas City, founded in 1838.

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K.C. Power & Light Building. (Wik)

It’s hard for a Pats fan to keep an open mind about the architecture of K.C. It got a much later start, although its start only slightly predates most of the historically significant buildings of Providence. K.C. does have, in the Kansas City Power & Light Building (1931), its own version of the Rhode Island capital’s Industrial Trust Bank Building (1928). The P&L is 31 stories to the ITBB’s 28, but its shaft lacks the latter’s voluptuosity of massing. In 2014 the P&L was transformed into 217 apartments, with a major event space in its lobby. Providence’s tower is sitting empty. Score one for K.C., no doubt. It is not a state capital, however, so it can have no brilliant capitol such as that of Rhode Island. Score one for Providence.

Kansas City’s Union Station (1914), with its Beaux Arts design, arguably outshines Providence’s own Union Station (1898) aesthetically, and still hosts Amtrak trains and a development called Science City, which contains, among other science-related features, a planetarium, plus retail and restaurants. K.C.’s World War I memorial, known as the Liberty Memorial, was dedicated in 1926 stands 217 feet tall compared to our WWI memorial (1929) and its 150 feet, but ours, designed by Paul Philippe Cret, is more beautiful. Score another for Providence. Both cities have excellent art museums that have been mangled by modernist additions.

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Liberty Memorial. (Wikipedia)

But the major difference that places Providence, and to a certain extent Boston, above K.C. is the survival, largely intact, of major historic neighborhoods, including Beacon Hill and Back Bay in Boston and, in Providence, College Hill, the East Side and many other of our old neighborhoods – there are no “new” ones to speak of. Most of all, while K.C. boasts a large number of preserved historic buildings downtown, Providence’s downtown is the only one in the nation listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places. Very few modernist buildings interrupt our downtown’s historical fabric, whereas in Kansas City the goodly number of historic buildings never cohere into a sense of place because their cohesion is destroyed by its many modernist buildings and skyscrapers. On the other hand, Kansas City was a prime example of the City Beautiful Movement, and while downtown’s classicism is largely drowned out today, the city features parks and boulevards from that era. Score it for K.C. Providence’s Exchange Place (now Kennedy Plaza) exemplified the movement here, which had not much by way of the classical ensembles that marked the apogee of the City Beautiful – now largely discarded, alas, throughout the nation.

I hope readers more familiar with the City of Fountains will enlighten me if they think I’ve given it the shaft. I’m afraid that in this pre-game assessment I lack the confidence to make valid judgments. I’ve not seen K.C. since the mid-’70s, when I was shown around twice by old college chums, first John Amick and then Brad Miller, while we were at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Wikipedia refers to the massive acreage of parking lots back then, but much good has been done by downtown’s revitalization after 2000, even as much bad has been done simultaneously, with more modernist buildings pockmarking the cityscape. I do recall seeing the fabulous Country Club Plaza, south of downtown, the first shopping center in the nation built with automobiles in mind. Beautiful, in a Spanish colonial style. (See below)

In that other contest, I believe that it will be New Orleans over Los Angeles in a romp, and in the NFC championship, too. [Update: Oh, well.]

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Country Club Plaza, south of downtown Kansas City. (Wikipedia)

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Bad trad and good trad

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New town near Mudurnu, in northwestern Turkey. (news.com.au)

Two articles fished from today’s indispensable ArchNewsNow.com, the thrice-weekly free compendium of anglospherical articles on architecture, edited by Kristen Richards, show the use and misuse of classical traditions on opposite sides of the world. Guess which is which, above and below.

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Part of Huawei’s Shenzhen campus. This cluster, one of 12, resembles Oxford. (16hours.com)

The misuse is on top. It is in Turkey, and all 732 of the little castles are ridiculous, even though the architecture itself does not seem all that bad. Indeed, it is less ridiculous than most ugly and stupid modernist housing developments in the United States and other mostly western countries. Imagine a neighborhood consisting exclusively of the modernist Philip Johnson’s Glass House, which offers privacy only in the WC.

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Philip Johnson’s Glass House. (Arquitectura e interiorismo)

To be sure, Johnson didn’t sleep in his own famous house in the woods of New Canaan, Conn. He only threw parties there but slept in a brick outbuilding near his house. A neighborhood of Glass Houses would be a Peeping Tom paradise, whereas those living in the newly created neighborhood of 732 single-family castles in Mudurnu would be well protected from prying eyes – prying sidewalk eyes in the out-of-doors if not those snooping through their computers’ Google accounts. This neighborhood looks monolithic, but give it a few years and each castle might sprout its own personality, as did the famous Long Island tract houses of Levittown, N.Y. Rival landscaping, additions to the structure and other personal features can work a world of diversity into even a betowered tract development in Turkey. Unless its prospective occupants are likely to be highly satisfied with their new homes’ appearance. For the whole place is unoccupied today – the victim of Turkey’s contracting economy.

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Another cluster of Hauwei campus.

The more inspired use, second photo, is the new campus, in Shenzhen, of Chinese corporate megagiant Huawei, maker of the third most globally popular smartphones after Apple and Samsung. Its new campus consists of 12 clusters, each inspired by a European city. To judge by the photographs in an article on All Tech Asia, the work is of high quality, not pure copies of past designs, so far as I can tell. Maybe I should add it to my roundup of the “Best Trad Buildings of 2018,” since the campus opened last year. Of course it goes without saying that the campus has been mocked by the usual suspects. The All Tech Asia story, “Huawei’s new campus in Shenzhen gets ridiculed for copycat architecture,” starts with this paragraph:

Chinese architects and netizens recently performed a collective facepalm after Huawei Technologies revealed the new design for its smartphone division headquarters near Shenzhen. Unlike tech giants like Apple, Google, and Alibaba, which gained attention with their futuristic buildings, Huawei decided that the best way to show how innovative they are is by copying 12th to 19th-century European architecture.

The facepalmers do not bother to climb out of their mental boxes to consider that a bolder imagination might well consider beauty to be a more useful response to the needs of the corporation and its workers than the sterile clichés that characterize the so-called “futuristic buildings” that all the other technology firms in China and elsewhere seem to have on their architectural save/gets. No big surprise. They are good at technology. Art and humanity are probably above their pay grades.

The Turkish bad trad reminds me of an office tower, in the postmodernist stye by Philip Johnson (again), along Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway. Its ranks of Palladian windows in the middle section of the tripartite building are a less elegant version of Mudurno, Turkey. Huawei’s supposed bad trad in Shenzhen, China, represents good trad with a bad rep because it copies the past. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – unless you are a mod-symp nudnik. Perhaps this does not fit in China – whose premier called for more culturally sensitive architecture not too long ago – but it does seem to be an advance over most other developments in the Middle Kingdom, not excluding the towns in suburban Shanghai that are more direct copies – and generally bad ones – of Paris and other European cities. Let alone Koolhaas’s uber-modernist CCTV HQ, in Beijing, which should be called the “Crush the People” Building. If you ask me, Huawei’s workers have opened a very nice fortune cookie, and now they will get to work in it. Good on them!

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Philip Johnson’s 1987 One International Place, Boston, with its ridiculous Palladian windows.

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Architect Rem Koolhaas’s CCTV headquarters in Beijing, known as Big Pants. (Pinterest)

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‘A future, or just history’?

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Faneuil Hall (center) and Quincy Market. (InterContinental Boston)

A Sunday Globe story, “A Future, or Just History,” about Boston caught my eye. I was arrested by the headline, whose kicker and subhead only added insult to injury: “Trapped in Time” and “No, Faneuil Hall isn’t ‘Boston’ anymore. But even with promised changes, can it ever be again?”

The story seemed to say that Boston’s historic character isn’t worth a hill of beans. By the end of the article, it was clear that it’s author, Janelle Nanos (of the Globe staff) and, presumably, her editors think that the important thing about Faneuil Hall is whether its restaurants are edgy enough.

In fact, the story was not really about Faneuil Hall but Quincy Market, one of the first festival marketplace developments by James Rouse, who built a career on the concept and used it to revive some of America’s most historic downtowns. He is not mentioned in Nanos’s article, which was apparently sparked by the sad news of the closing, Saturday, of Durgin-Park, the famous Yankee restaurant that had operated for 192 years. The story on Durgin-Park described it as “a holdover from a bygone era with few survivors.” And as I learned to my sorrow just a few months ago, Locke-Ober’s, the famous old German restaurant in Boston’s theater district, had also closed.

These closings result at least in part from a change in attitude toward the city itself, long abrew in Boston. The city’s leaders and tastemakers don’t value its historical character anymore. That stems from a longstanding trend under way well before the 1970s revival of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. Scollay Square was razed to make way for City Hall. The West End was was sacrificed for ugly luxury apartments. The Globe’s editors seem to think that the tall glass and steel buildings that have replaced historic cityscapes throughout the Hub are the “real” Boston today.

Let’s hope not. Those sterile buildings are undeniably there, but what is the “real” Boston? Is it the extraordinary fabric of historical architecture that still makes up much of the city? Or is it canceled out by Beantown’s metastasizing expanse of sterile glass towers? What is the meaning of the towers? Do they have a meaning, as the historic fabric does, or is it just construction? If it does have a meaning, such as “the future,” is it good or bad?

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Beacon Hill (Yankee Magazine)

The story calls Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market examples of urban renewal, but that is a misnomer. Scollay Square, the West End and other lovely old places demolished to make way for ugly new ones. That is urban renewal, not projects that restore old places to reflect new uses. The phrase “urban renewal” is often mocked by using the phrase “urban removal” instead. The tag works, neatly exposing the fraud that underlies policies that remove places that most people love and replace them with places that leave them cold.

The Globe story continues:

“It was the second biggest tourist attraction in the U.S., after Disney World,” said Christopher Muller, a professor in the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration. “It was a destination, but there was really nothing else in Boston.” Now, surrounded by change, Faneuil Hall feels frozen in time. It’s “Boston” to outsiders, but no longer represents what the city has become.

So what is it that the city has become? Faneuil Hall does not feel “frozen in time.” That is an attitude. It may with equal or greater validity be said to feel like an old friend who protects us and comforts us amid turbulent times. Is there really “nothing else” in Boston? What about Beacon Hill? What about Back Bay? What about Copley Square? What about the South End? What about any number of destinations that Bostonians and tourists have visited in growing number since the city rejected its midcentury “renewal” torpor, from Faneuil Hall to replacing the Route 93 overpass with the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Globe’s story is an attitude masquerading as journalism.

Change, reflected partly but far from entirely in architecture, is the only constant, of course, in cities and towns and everything else. Attitudes toward where we live are affected by architecture just as architecture affects those attitudes. A push-me/pull-you phenomenon operates, pushing cities (and people) toward change even as people’s natural tendency to resist change pulls them back. Tradition, in building styles and personal behavior, pulls us back as technical innovation and evolving social mores push us forward.

Some who may be tired of change and want something solid to hold on to – like Faneuil Hall, maybe – might also feel awkward if they do not applaud what they are told is more fashionable, stylish, hipper, edgier, better.

The headline on the Globe story, “A Future, or Just History,” displays the conventional bias for the future and against the past in our attitudes about time. Most people would rather experience a bit more stability. The modern movement in architecture was originally based on an elitist prejudice against the past. Modern architecture’s founders wanted to replace every historic building with new buildings reflecting what they saw as a new era. They wanted to push toward a new paradigm for living that saw people as cogs in a more efficient social machine, from which all would benefit. It turned out that building new buildings was the easy part of the radiant future foreseen by visionaries like Le Corbusier. We got the metaphor of efficiency but not efficiency itself. As for changing human nature, that did not work either.

Most architects today have no knowledge of or interest in all this. They were not taught in architecture school about architecture that changed slowly to keep pace with human needs for centuries. They have forgotten their lessons about how new buildings based on function alone would improve human existence. But today’s modernist architects keep building those buildings, creating those awful, soulless places, as if they were hitched to a sleigh going downhill with no mechanism for slowing the pace. And whether they realize it or not, each new modernist building pushes society further toward more and faster change than most people want.

“We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us,” Winston Churchill said. As more buildings are built that reject the past, reject tradition and reject humanity, the number of buildings whose survival acts to moderate change is reduced. At ever greater speed, society changes too fast for people to keep up, and every facet of life grows more difficult to understand. This has sown confusion and discontent. Cities and towns change too fast and with too little forethought to be effectively managed. We see that all over. National policy becomes incomprehensible because, increasingly, it makes no sense. Those who make policy seem to understand it no better than those who must live it. The management of policy – that is, politics – becomes overheated by the friction because no one knows what’s going on and things get emotional. Yet more modernist buildings go up, and that (it seems to me) only speeds up society’s approach to dystopia.

The future will arrive day by day at the same pace it always has and always will. Nothing can change that, but the way we experience the pace of change can, in fact, be manipulated, for better or worse. For decades, most such attempts seem to have pushed, however unwittingly, the latter agenda.

The Globe article celebrates this state of affairs, mistaking its dangers for opportunity and betterment. Recent decades had seen more respect for Boston’s history, reflected in the revival of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, the survival of Durgin-Park and Locke Ober’s, and the renovation of Boston’s historic monuments and the rising market value of its historic districts and neighborhoods. But attitudes of civic leaders and tastemakers are pushing in the other direction, as they have been throughout the renaissance decades. It’s push-me/pull-you at work. The Globe article suggests a tipping point may soon be reached, if it has not already been. Let’s hope not.

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Scollay Square, demolished in the 1960s, replaced by City Hall and Government Center. (Wikipedia)

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Showdown on Blackstone

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Beresford-Nicholson estate at 288 Blackstone Blvd. (Residential Properties)

Next Tuesday’s 4:45 p.m. meeting of the City Plan Commission may tell whether Providence and its citizens can preserve its historical character. A developer wants to demolish the mansion, outbuildings and grounds of the Beresford-Nicholson estate on Blackstone Boulevard, and build what would probably be very mediocre houses instead. The old mansion is quite fine, but one of the outbuildings, a carriage house erected in 1925, is perhaps even finer, a true landmark. People can easily miss the mansion behind its stone wall, but the carriage house on Slater Avenue is visible to all.

Maybe the developer could slice the carriage house out of the project. But the best plan would be for the CPC to block the subdivision and, in doing so, give an important lesson to the city, one it needs to learn if Providence is to preserve its assets. I wrote two posts just before the last CPC meeting on this, “Meanwhile, on Blackstone” and “Save the carriage house, too.” They discuss the proposal and provide useful photographs of what’s there and some idea of what the Bilotti Group plans to do with it.

The CPC meeting on this matter shortly before Christmas featured a public hearing at which almost all of a couple of dozen witnesses testified against this plan to demolish the entire estate and build ten houses. The developer and his associates testified that they would not require any variances from zoning. A lawyer among the opponents testified that a project that ticked all the zoning boxes still might not conform to the city’s comprehensive plan.

This is an interesting conundrum. It is clear that while it abides by the zoning code, the proposed development does not abide by the comprehensive plan because it does not protect the neighborhood’s historical character. The conflict would need to be resolved legally, but logically a resolution sure seems to be apparent. The comprehensive plan must take precedence over the zoning code, because the latter is designed to carry out the former.

The city and most civic leaders have not paid close enough attention to a key aspect of the comprehensive plan, but that must change soon.

The city’s unusually well preserved historical character offsets, to some degree, the effects of its dysfunctional business climate in the mixture of factors that foster economic development in Providence. Unfortunately, the decline of its historical character is accelerating, and without its historical character, the city (and state) will have little beyond its location between Boston and New York to compete with other cities for growth. The City Plan Commission therefore has an opportunity next Tuesday evening to clarify the importance of Providence’s beauty by affirming the proper relationship between zoning and the comprehensive plan.


What follows is a collection of passages from the comprehensive plan that speak to one of its main purposes – to protect the historic character of this city, its institutional zones, its commercial districts and its neighborhoods. (The boldfaced intros are not direct quotes but the passages are.)

  • Land Use Goal 9: Manage change and growth to sustain Providence’s high quality of life and preserve its unique attributes. … This section identifies objectives and strategies that focus on the preservation of the existing neighborhood character and protecting what is most special about our neighborhoods. … This plan aims to direct growth in a controlled way that complements the assets of our city and builds on them.
  • Areas of Stability: The goal for these areas [including the Blackstone neighborhood] is to identify and maintain the existing character of the area while accommodating limited new development and redevelopment.
  • Growth Districts, Growth Corridors and Transitional Areas: Design standards will ensure that quality of design is an asset to the surrounding neighborhood and contributes to the city’s character. New development must take into consideration natural and man-made environmental constraints and focus on preserving those aspects of our environment that we hold dear, including views, vistas and corridors and Providence’s historic character.
  • Residential Areas: Since 2000, there has been an increase in residential infill projects in virtually every neighborhood in the city. While some projects fit seamlessly into the surrounding neighborhood, many of the new homes do not respect the character of the surrounding area. While the City supports the expansion of housing opportunities, it is essential that new construction respect the valued attributes and character of the surrounding neighborhood.
  • Commercial Areas: [Require] limits on the size and design to ensure compatibility with adjacent residential properties.
  • Building Form in Mixed-Use Areas: When many uses co-exist, it is the built environment of those areas that establish the character. Establishing a cohesive form allows for uses to change over time without significantly changing the character of the area.
  • Strategies for Continued Investment in Downtown/Mixed-Use Areas: Refin[e] existing regulations to better implement the goals of protecting the historic character and environmental assets of the area while promoting new investment.
  • Strategies to Foster Institutional Growth While Preserving Neighborhoods: Ensure that institutional development is consistent with neighborhood character.
  • Strategies for Carrying Out Vision for Built Environment: Identify possible “character” districts that could be used in the future as categories for land use regulations that are based more on building form than use.
  • BE2 New Development to Complement Traditional Character
  • Planning for Design in Public Realm: Establish design and maintenance standards for major corridors that incorporate preservation, high-quality design and neighborhood character.
  • Planning for Neighborhood Character and Design: Create design and development standards to ensure the compatibility of new infill and rehabilitated uses, particularly in residential areas of neighborhoods.
  • Planning for Housing Design: Develop a pattern book of residential designs based on Providence’s vernacular architecture.
  • Land Use: Update regulations to ensure that new development complements existing neighborhood character in scale, massing and design.
  • People and Public Spaces: Develop recreation facilities that are attractive to residents and visitors of all ages and income groups.


It’s very clear that protecting the city’s historic character is among the most important purposes of the comprehensive plan. The zoning code contains fewer passages expressly protecting the historical character of residential neighborhoods than of the downtown neighborhood (now expanded to include the Jewelry District). However, its list of zoning goals includes two specifically pertinent to the priority that the comprehensive plan must rightfully take over the zoning code. They are:

  • Goal E. Provide for the protection of the natural, historic, cultural, and scenic character of the city or areas in the municipality.
  • Goal I. Promote implementation of the Comprehensive Plan.

It seems pretty obvious what the City Plan Commission must do.

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Box #1, Box #2 or Box #3?

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The three rival proposals to build on the east bank of the Providence River. (195 commission)

The headline refers to the three proposals to build on three parcels along the banks of the Providence River in the I-195 corridor. I missed the I-195 commission’s truncated meeting on this matter just before Christmas. The panel left before asking questions of its consultant, Utile, of Boston, hired to judge the three proposals for this land. But the very diligent Jewelry District Association met to discuss the proposals on Tuesday evening, and so I was able to see whether and how the proposals had evolved.

Utile assembled the three proposals from the Carpionato Group, Post Road Residential, and Spencer Providence. Olin Thompson, of the JDA, broke this down so that each proposal could be easily compared to its rivals. My last blog post on the three was “I-195 eastern front heats up” from last May – a long time for such an important decision by the commission to hang in limbo. And not much seems to have changed. The next 195 commission meeting was supposed to choose the winner – Door No. 1, Door No. 2 or Door No. 3? – but it might not get beyond the commissioners’ questions for the consultant who was paid to review the three proposals.

After batting the three contenders back and forth – and generally slapping the Carpionato and Post Road proposals upside the head – attendees at the meeting seemed to favor the Spencer proposal. As of now, I would agree.

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Original 2013 sketch for the Carpionato proposal. See more. (Carpionato)

Carpionato first announced its proposal way back in 2013, and it was lovely. Since then, it has gone through several stages of “value engineering” (dumbing down), with its initial romantic jumble of gables and mostly modest-sized structures having given way to more flat roofs on fewer but larger structures. It was originally more like a village, which as an exercise in urban infill could have worked well. Today, it comes much closer to living down to the suburban label it has, I think, been given prematurely. On the other hand, it would take up all three parcels (P2, P5 and P6), so the unions find it the most attractive, and once I would have too – since taking all three parcels reduces the opportunity for a proposal out of sync with Fox Point’s historic character to horn in. Carpionato could up its game in order to win this competition. Don’t hold your breath. That almost never happens.

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Post Road, facing river. (Post Road)

Post Road is boring in conception, not urban (let alone urbane) but suburban, and the first illustration we’ve seen of what it might look like only demonstrates its demerits. To add to its woes, competition-wise, it uses only one parcel, P5. So its tedium offends the neighbors (or at least the JDA members) and its size offends potential support by labor. Whereas Spencer leaves one of the three parcels vulnerable to the sort of modernist proposal designed to “challenge” people who would prefer (and rightly so) that any new development seek to strengthen rather than undermine the neighborhood’s character, Post Road leaves two of three parcels in the lurch. Having joined JDA in dumping on Post Road, I must give it credit for its design, which, to judge from the illustration, leans more traditional than modernist, at least to some slight degree. That all three proposals seem to possess that virtue, more or less, is quite amazing, given the constipated modernism planned or delivered throughout the rest of the 195 corridor so far. Except for the Fane tower, the JDA and its allies, even the Providence Preservation Society, have seemed OK with that – which is a big problem for the coherence of their otherwise excellent efforts to serve their various Providence constituencies.

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Drawing of Spencer Providence proposal for eastern segment of I-195 corridor. (Spencer)

Since Spencer Providence threw its hat in the ring last April, its proposal does not seem to have changed very much. I described all three plans in “Hand-to-hand fight for 195,” and even then it was clear that Spencer had overtaken Carpionato. Its illustrations still suggest that it has examined Fox Point and used its observations to ensure that Spencer Providence will fit nicely into its urban context. However, the vagaries of architectural illustration must be considered. The Spencer drawings feature a sort of scratchy charm, quirky massing and historical detailing that seems to reflect the character of Fox Point – or rather Wickenden Street, since most of Fox Point consists of single-family homes often split into units for two or more families or individuals. The initial Spencer presentation last year had a cute set of slides in which a dog and its master were shown strolling up and down the twee lanes of the project. Even if the plan were carried out precisely as portrayed above, the reality could be shockingly different if the materials do not carry forward the spirit of the illustrator’s intention. Today, architectural illustration often intends not to reveal the plan but to conceal it. We may hope for the best from Spencer, perhaps, but we must be wary.

The public, the neighbors and the groups that support them must keep their eye on the aesthetics of these projects, because nobody else will. Functional aspects of the rival proposals are vital, but there are rules and guidelines that form the legal envelope within which such elements are put into play. And the market forces that shape what can be delivered are the same for each developer. Whether this grassy stretch of embankment enriches the city will depend a lot more on its aesthetic appeal than on its functional elements. If a developer does not provide a grocery store, a grocery store may be sought later as the space within the development evolves, or it may arise nearby in another development. But it is the appearance of Parcels 2, 5 and 6 that will grace the waterfront or damn it in the end.

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Wickenden Street in Fox Point. (Greater City Providence)


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Antelope Freeway is here

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Last year the Rhode Island Department of Transportation announced that state and federal highway entrances and exits would be renumbered, under a new federal standard, to reflect not sequence but proximity to highway mile markers. I argued that this was absurd, and that changing the numbers would not serve the driving population. Today, traveling down to North Kingstown on Route 4, I found that the program had been implemented and immediately located an example of its absurdity.

All the signs had the new exit numbers, along with smaller signs reminding drivers of the old numbers. Exit 7 was now Exit 6, Exit 6 was Exit 5. I thought Exit 5 would be Exit 4 – but no, it was Exit 3. There was no Exit 4. But not long before I reached the new Exit 3, I passed the mile marker. It said “4 mi.” Supposedly the exit was four miles from the Route 95/Route 4 split. Why didn’t they rename it Exit 4 instead of Exit 3? I guess the governor will appoint a committee to find the answer. While they’re at it, how many dollars did it cost to rename the exits, attach the new exit numbers, and also attach signs reminding people of the old exit numbers. However low the dollar figure is, it is far too high.

Last year in a post called “Antelope Freeway, 1/8 miles,” I mocked the state’s ridiculous new exit recalculaton & naming program by alluding to Firesign Theater’s hilarious skit, “Antelope Freeway,” about a guy listening to his radio as he tries out his new car. Here it is. Ha ha.

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Best trad buildings of 2018

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E. Bronson Ingram Residential College at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville. (DMSA)

Vanderbilt University has embarked upon a multi-year building program in which, so far as I can tell, relatively staid traditional dormitories constructed between the 1950s and the ’70s are being replaced by residential colleges (as such facilities are increasingly known on campus these days) designed in more rigorous classical styles. The first, pictured above, is E. Bronson Ingram College, in the Collegiate Gothic style designed by the Washington, D.C., firm of David M. Schwarz Architects. The dorms opened in time for last year’s fall semester. The quality of its design seems high, possibly comparable to Yale’s two new residential colleges by Robert A.M Stern Architects, of New York, which opened the year before last.


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Trible Library expansion at Christopher Newport University. (Glave & Holmes Architecture)

Christopher Newport University, a state college in Virginia, has radically redesigned its campus in recent years, the latest being a major expansion of its Trible Library. The design was delivered by Glavé & Holmes Architecture, of Richmond, which is responsible for much of the new campus. The library reopened in May.


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The Guild, an apartment house in Charleston, S.C., designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

Stern’s firm has a big project whose first phase, above, opened last March in Charleston, S.C.. It is an eight-story apartment house of 226 units (plus ground-floor retail) called The Guild. An office building of five stories, below, is more classical in style than its brother, which harks back to the brick mills of Charleston’s past. The pair of buildings are Phase I of Courier Square, which may end up with six buildings. The lead architect for The Guild was Gary Brewer, who designed the Nelson Fitness Center at Brown University here in Providence and the addition to the Tennis Hall of Fame (the renowned Casino by McKim, Mead & White) in Newport.

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Office building next to The Guild is also part of first phase of RAMSA’s Courier Square.


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Catholic cathedral in Knoxville by McCrery Architects. (shcathedral.org)

The Roman Catholic Diocese dedicated its new cathedral in Knoxville last March. The building was designed by McCrery Architects, of Washington, D.C., whose principal is noted for his participation in the design of a proposed set of classical towers to fill the space at Ground Zero, in Manhattan. That plan was announced in the Autumn 2001 issue of the Manhattan Institute’s quarterly, City Journal, and entered in the design competition for the 9/11 rebuild. I have heard that the rules demanded “architecture for our time,” so this great example of that was rejected. James McCrery was a partner then in the firm of Franck Lohsen McCrery, of New York and Washington.


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New federal courthouse in Mobile, Ala., designed by Hartman-Cox Architects.

The Southern District of Alabama’s federal courthouse opened this past July, designed by the firm Hartman-Cox, of Washington, D.C. The original proposal, made back in 2002, was for a modernist courthouse designed by the Boston firm founded by Moshe Safdie. That proposal, which would have uglified historic downtown Mobile, was unable to secure funding from Congress. Hartman-Cox designed the Reagan International Trade Center in D.C., the first major classical structure in the nation’s capital since the 1940s. It also designed a sympathetic classical addition, in 1990, to the John Carter Brown Library (1904) on the Brown campus. This extension broke brilliantly with the practice of adding modernist wings to beautiful buildings. Ending that practice would be a stroke of genius everywhere, but it has been largely ignored globally, even in Providence.


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Chapel of the Holy Cross, in Tampa, Fla., designed by Duncan Stroik. (stroik.com)

The renowned ecclesiastical designer Duncan Stroik’s new Chapel of the Holy Cross for the Jesuit High School in Tampa was dedicated in August. The school also recently completed a traditional administration building designed by Cooper Johnson Smith of Tampa, and has other buildings under way as part of CJS’s master plan.


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Stonehill College opened a new, Georgian-style building by the S/L/A/M Collaborative for its school of arts and sciences on its campus in North Easton, Mass. The new Stonehill building sits on the west side of the quadrangle, with S/L/A/M in line to design a business school for the quad’s south side, scheduled to be complete later this year. Note the region – New England. Your diligent compiler of 2018 trad had been dismayed at the preponderance of Deep South cities in this write-up. Our section of the country had better up our game!



Highway bridge built on campus of Villanova University, in Pennsylvania.

Last, for now at least, is a pedestrian bridge built on the campus of Villanova University, in Villanova, Penn. While not in New England per se, it is in the Northeastern quadrant of the nation. The university is also planning a new performing arts center whose design is somewhat traditional. Providence has a modernist pedestrian bridge under construction right now. In terms of beauty, it could, alas, have taken a lesson from the Villanova bridge, which was designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. I hope, when the Providence foot bridge has been completed, it will have been so “value engineered” that people will think it is just a plain old boring bridge. Better that than a conceited bridge eager to “reinterpret” the concept of “bridge.”


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Front entry of 135 E. 79th St., New York. Note the tree sculptures. (Brodsky)

Breaking my own rules: Studio Sofield’s 135 E. 79th St., in Manhattan is delightful. The firm’s founder, William Sofield, strangely considers himself “a modernist by temperament, an historicist by training.” He has designed an apartment building of 18 stories (by my count) that was completed in 2014, so is ineligible for this review. Yet its front entry is so splendid that I could not resist placing it here in this 2018 review. The entry is flanked by two sculptures of tree trunks, and the birds that have been planted on its stumpy branches are worth a trip. There’s no going back to 2014, but there is going back to 135 E. 79th St., whose charms you can experience gratis, without having to buy a condo there.


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Finally some new traditional architecture from Europe sent to me in a comment to this post from the “New Traditional Architecture” blog (fist pump, fuck yeah classicism!) of Michael Daimant, of Sweden. The building above was completed last year in St. Petersburg, designed by the firm Evgeny Gerasimov & Partners. The website editor’s conclusion: “The whole complex is impressive but the windows and facade feel a bit lifeless when looking at a closer distance. Some years of patina will do it good.” Now there’s a comment that will generate respect for Daimant’s credibility as an observer. I’m not sure I mightn’t beg to disagree with it, but the honesty is impressive.


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Another building from Michael Daimant and his voluptuous website opened last year in Düsseldorf, designed by Ralf Schmitz + Sebastian Treese Architekten. Daimant suggests that “[t]his recently completed replacement building … must make the neighbors think once or twice if they shouldn’t rebuild themselves.” I’ll second that emotion. Perhaps as a residential structure (as it seems) it violates my injunction against single-family houses, since that is not the kind of commission that classicists need more of – they need to be erecting larger projects more visible to the public eye, thus creating, it may be hoped, a groundswell for a leveling, at the local level, of the developmental playing field.


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Addition to University Arms Hotel, at left, in Cambridge. (John Simpson Architects)

Here, also courtesy of Daimant’s “New Traditional Architecture” website is a major hotel extension in Cambridge. Originally completed in 1834, the University Arms Hotel now boasts an addition, opened last year, and designed by John Simpson Architects. So was the recently completed School of Architecture campus at the University of Notre Dame, which I will add to this post as soon as I can acquire a decent photograph. As for the University Arms addition, it not only adds to the beauty of a large park in one of the world’s most famous university towns, it also subtracts ugliness, for lay your eyes (briefly) upon the abomination that was demolished to make way for it. Out with the old, in with the new! We certainly can say that about this here!

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“Best” traditional buildings of 2018? Well, maybe. And very possibly not. Along with most of the middle and western sections of the country, the other six continents (not including Antarctica, whose millions of penguins abjure architecture) are, shall we say, underrepresented [No longer, thanks to Michael Daimant]. But see the note below and correct whatever injustice (you decide) remains characteristic of this post.


Readers may feel free to mention traditional projects completed in 2018, including those beyond the borders of the United States, that do not appear in this review. Please email any suggestions to me at dbrussat@gmail.com. Or you may chastise me in the comments section.

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Rebuilt riding hall in Buda

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The royal riding hall at Buda Castle in Budapest, Hungary. It is almost complete. (Skyscraper City)

Photographs of progress on the riding hall and stables of Buda Castle, on the Buda side of the Danube in Budapest, raised my spirits this holiday season. Almost complete, the reconstruction seems a good way to express hope in the future as we enter the new year. The riding hall was designed by Alajos Hauszmann and built in 1899–1900, heavily damaged in World War II and demolished during the communist era. Its reconstruction is part of a larger plan under Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán to restore the Buda Castle, which contains the national gallery, history museum and library today, but still features the dubious renovations by the communists in the 1950s.

Critics of Orbán say he wants to turn the Castle District into a sort of Kremlin on the Danube. An anonymous article expressing skepticism of the huge project ran in 2014 on the Hungarian Spectrum website. Another anonymous post there yesterday reported that Orbán will move his office into the Castle Theater on Jan. 1, the day after tomorrow. The first article, whose author’s name I could not locate, said:

A few days ago [in 2014] the Hungarian public learned that billions of forints, part of which will of course come from Brussels, will be spent on the reconstruction of the Castle District (Várnegyed) and the Royal Castle. The whole project might take twenty years. László L. Simon, the undersecretary in charge of culture, is responsible for the project, named the National (what else?) Hauszmann Plan. The plan is grandiose and, in my opinion, unnecessary. Fueling it, I suspect, is Viktor Orbán’s megalomania.

Another more gentle article, “Budapest: From Rubble to Remarkable,” by Heather Hall on the tourist-oriented website ferretingoutthefun.com, is historical in tone. Hall notes that Budapest (originally twin cities, Buda and Pest, straddling the Danube and joined under the Hapsburg administration in 1873) was largely destroyed in the war but has been rebuilt to such a degree that one might never guess. Hall writes:

Like much of Eastern Europe, Budapest took a beating during World War II. Bombs rained down like a proliferation of hailstones and left smoldering piles of rubble in their wake. Then, in a final act of desperation, German troops blew up the city’s bridges during their retreat from the advancing Soviet army. By war’s end, a staggering 75 percent of Budapest lay in ruins.

Walking around Budapest today, it’s difficult to believe that so much of it is newly built. The Hungarians have slowly and painstakingly reconstructed their beloved city, from the Hapsburg palace atop a Buda hill to the iconic domed Parliament building standing proudly on the Pest side of the Danube. Looking at photos of the destruction, I am astounded at the transformation. Budapest has truly risen like a phoenix from the ashes. The city’s rebirth is made even more amazing given the fact that the Soviets took over Hungary after the war and tried to impose communism on the reluctant population.

After forty years of Soviet rule, Budapest could be chock-full of squat grey concrete structures but, mercifully, it is not.

Hall’s article contains lots of lovely photos of Budapest today. Please read the whole thing.

Returning to the riding hall, I support its reconstruction regardless of the politics that drive it. Any society after such a massive interruption of its society and its culture should be striving for reconstruction. Hall does not reveal whether the city’s reconstruction was initiated under the communist regime – presumably after the Hungarian popular revolt in 1956 – or after the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s. Either way, when the strides taken by Budapest to rebuild after World War II are considered, the excellent idea here in America of rebuilding Pennsylvania Station in New York City seems positively quaint by comparison. As described by Hall, the work in Budapest seems well beyond the extensive rebuilding in such places as Warsaw, Berlin and Dresden, of which I am much more familiar.

I expect to visit Hungary someday. I am a quarter Hungarian and my wife, Victoria, is 100 percent Hungarian. Her parents fled Hungary together in the back of a truck after the failure of the revolt and, after a few years in Canada, ended up as welcome emigrés to America, first in Houston, where Victoria was born, and then in Providence. Whatever one may think of Orbán and his policies, his continuation of Budapest’s reconstruction is unassailable. It is constantly resisted by modernists whose worldwide architectural train wreck is shamed by every stone used in any reconstruction, wherever it takes place, be it in Budapest, Berlin, or New York City. Budapest is another example of a growing popular revolt against modern architecture and modern urbanism. Bravo, Hungary!

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Detail of the riding hall reconstruction in Budapest. (Skyscraper City)


Artist’s conception of riding hall reconstructon, at center left. (Buda Castle Budapest)

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The current national riding hall in Budapest, in the International Style. (csiobudapest.hu)

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Hungarian Parliament (1896), designed by Imre Steindl and rebuilt after WWII. (Oddviser)

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Street scene in Budapest. (ferretingoutthefun.com)


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New blog page on ‘Dystopia’

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This post serves as the official announcement that I have posted on my blog a new page – as in the “Home” page or the “About the author” page or the “Lost Providence” page. That is, I posted it but it is not a post. Rather it is a permanent section of the blog itself. It concerns the book Making Dystopia, a comprehensive history of modern architecture by the architectural historian James Stevens Curl, published in 2018 by Oxford University Press. The page reflects the importance I place in the prospects for this book and the shift it might initiate in the revival of traditional architecture.

On the Making Dystopia page there is an introduction to the book and there are links to sites where the book can be purchased, and then there is a list of reviews of the book. Readers may feel free to send me news of reviews that I have left off the list, or suggest other material that might be of interest to readers. I may be reached at this email: dbrussat@gmail.com.

I will forgive any reader who, on his way to the Making Dystopia page, stops in at the Lost Providence page. When you are finished reading the Making Dystopia page, feel free to plunge back into the Home page and read more posts, many of which lately have been about Making Dystopia. No doubt they will help you fill up the down time between Christmas and New Year’s.

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Blessings be upon readers

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Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem. (Islamic Landmarks)

Most if not all of the scene above was built since the birth of Christ in a Bethlehem manger long ago. The Church of the Nativity, erected to celebrate that holy birth, still contains, in its basement, the site of the legendary virgin deliverance. At Christmas, celebration takes its many forms. Architecture is one, and through it we celebrate traditions that uphold human hopes for the future, which rely on surmounting challenges to those traditions that have arisen in the recent past. This blog celebrates those traditions year round, several times a week, but today it celebrates its own readers.

I would like to thank all readers of the this blog, including those who might retain, if that can be imagined, some skepticism toward the classical revival, and who, as they keep on reading, may begin to see the reason behind the prospect that a return to tradition in the design and construction of houses, buildings, cities and towns can assist an efflorescence of traditional cultural revivals, artistic and otherwise,  musical, both classical and folk, figurative sculpture and painting, along with the rise of a more humane back-to-basics sensibility, a smaller scale in every human endeavor, and a greater humility in the advancement of science and technology – that all this could actually bring a happier, lovelier world of greater fulfillment, greater sustainability and greater capacity to come together and solve, in an atmosphere of hope uplifted by beauty, the local, regional, national and global problems that we all face, and ponder at this time of year.

This is a tall order – oops, a tall expectation. But this year has seen the emergence of a book of hope, a volume called Making Dystopia whose intention is quite the opposite: to reverse the dystopia already upon us. Its author, James Stevens Curl, has written a history – the most comprehensive on record – of a catastrophe that many believe to be at or near the root of the gathering crisis in the affairs of humanity. By exalting sterility, utility and technology in a plan to turn society into machinery, modern architecture has stifled the spirit that had accomplished great progress for humanity. Stevens Curl wants us to get our humanity back, and since acceptance is the first step to a cure, his book could be the medicine we need.

So I will be setting up a third page in my blog dedicated to Making Dystopia, where readers can go to buy the book and read reviews by writers who have read and understood it, many criticizing establishment critiques by reviewers whose misunderstanding, oftentimes, seems emboldened by their resolute refusal to read the book. Maybe other things will be posted there too. Look for that page soon. Meantime, merry Christmas and a joyous season for all.

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“The main access to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is this Liliputian and simple door in the main façade known as “Door of Humility.” It dates back to the Ottoman period, its size meant to prevent carts being driven in by looters, and to force even the most important visitor to dismount from his horse as they entered the holy place. The doorway was reduced from an earlier Crusader doorway, the pointed arch of which can still be seen above the current door.” (Flickr)

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