Shooting WaterFire!

Waterplace Park end of WaterFire, July 26. All photographs by John A. Simonelli.

Waterplace Park end of WaterFire, July 26. All photographs by John A. Simonetti. (Click to enlarge.)

Here are some shots of WaterFire, created and operated by artist Barnaby Evans of Providence. For readers unfamiliar with the phenomenon, the installation has played out on the city’s three intimate downtown rivers for, I think, 15 years now, every two weeks or so from May through October.

Fires are lit in 100 braziers up and down the rivers, using fragrant wood. Music – mainly “world” music, classical music, jazz or opera – is piped into speakers hidden up and down the embankments and under arched bridges, a waterfront built in the 1990s after the Providence, Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck rivers were “daylighted.”

Some 40,000 people, mostly local but many from around the country and the world, walk peacefully up and down the river walks at each WaterFire, or sit on benches, on low walls along the way, or at outdoor seating provided by restaurants lining the rivers. Or they ride in genuine gondolas, tour boats or official “WaterFire” dragon boats plying the rivers as men and women in black silently pile new wood on the braziers from black canal barges.

The rivers link three parks and traverse the edge of downtown, separating it from leafy College Hill, atop which sit Brown and RISD.

The photos were taken by architect John A. Simonetti during the WaterFire of July 26. There is another WaterFire tomorrow night, Saturday, August 9. Enjoy the photographs and imagine yourself here for the next WaterFire, or the one after that. (The final two shots are of the Rhode Island State House, designed by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White, completed in 1900 and overlooking WaterFire from nearby atop Smith Hill.)

MALL FIRE 14 7-26-2014 PM John A SimonettiN BASIN 8 7-26-2014  PM John A SimonettiO GTECH 1  7-26-2014 PM John A SimonettiNS BANK 1  7-26-2014 PM John A Simonetti20of TEN31 5 7-26-2014 PM John A SimonettiM RIVER 6  7-26-2014 PM John A SimonettiTATE HOUSE 1 7-27-2014 PM John A SimonettiSE DOME  1 7-27-2014 PM John A Simonetti

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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8 Responses to Shooting WaterFire!

  1. I so enjoyed it when I was there in 2006. These photos are beautiful!


  2. For the life of me I can’t figure the attraction of Waterfire, after seeing it the first few times.


    • John A Simonetti says:

      Stephen – Yes true – Not everyone likes WaterFire – how ever it does compliment the rivers and the city and brings Providence to life – Thank you – John a Simonetti – the photographer


      • Stepheb says:

        Folks certainly come to the event. Yes, it does compliment and complement the rivers.
        Great photography John. Absolutely lovely.


      • John A Simonetti says:

        Stephen – I like your candor – Great – My biggest issue about WaterFire is only one Artist Controls the entire show – and controls what other artists are in the park during the fire. And much funding seems to head his way – Maybe more opportunity for others on an independent basis would be great too John


  3. Joan Slafsky says:

    How beautiful! Thanks for sharing Davud! Remember when you quoted me worrying that no one would come? And you said ‘don’t worry Joan they will come!’ Thanks for 18 or more ( since New Tear’s Eve 1995 ) years of support! See you soon! Joan Slafsky


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