St. Florian does Parcel 12

Rendering of design for Parcel 12 by Friedrich St. Florian. (St. Florian Architects)

Rendering of design for Parcel 12 by Friedrich St. Florian. (St. Florian Architects)

Disappointment has generally reigned over the proposal by First Bristol to erect a hotel on Parcel 12 in downtown Providence. It has neither enough traditional chops nor the unabashed modernist ugliness to emerge from the slough of suburban schlock. But it has, or wants to have, the bones of a very nice building of eight stories that could fit well on that northeastern corner of Burnside Park and Kennedy Plaza.

The site plan of the St. Florian design.

The site plan of the St. Florian design.

Evening view of the St. Florian proposal.

Evening view of the St. Florian proposal.

A few years ago, Friedrich St. Florian, who designed the Providence Place mall with enough traditional chops to (for a while) turn Waterplace Park into a very beautiful place (when viewed from the east), and then designed a World War II Memorial graceful enough – and traditional enough – to fit well in that sacred space between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. He and the late Bill Warner – who designed the city’s new waterfront in the 1990s – are Providence’s most storied architects of the modern era.

Recently St. Florian sent me a proposal he had made several years ago for a hotel and upper-floor penthouses totaling 12 stories on Parcel 12. It looks quite pleasant, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. It has a perfectly tripartite, classicizing base, shaft and and capital arrangement. Its windows seem well set back into the façades, giving the building a real sense of strength. It is hard to tell whether the upper cornice is sufficiently articulate, but at least it has a cornice. It is also hard to say whether the shaft portion of the arrangement should be topped by a cornice or, more properly, a stringcourse. And it is hard to tell why the upper three stories of the base segment should not be described as scaffolding that remains from the construction, but we are open-minded. It could be a trellis, or wrought-iron balconies. Again, hard to say for sure.

The rendering of the hotel in the evening is nice, too, but also seems to want to do more to fulfill its clearly classical ambition.

Urbanistically, it wins points for fully hugging its boundary edges along its two chief city-side façades. But the plan shows a “v” shape opening toward the east, where the Woonasquatucket River curves along the Memorial Boulevard. The legs of the v are broad enough to create façades covering more than 50 percent of that side of the parcel. Some will wonder whether there should be a greater sense of closure. Others will wonder whether the entrance is at that end or whether that is where the laundry trucks, etc., will enter the hotel. St. Florian’s client was Carpionato Properties, so it may not have mattered.

Nice drawings, Friedrich. Perhaps Jim Karam at First Bristol can present an updated proposal that will leapfrog the elegance of this St. Florian design.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. 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. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and 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 invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, 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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