The Capital Center Commission’s design-review panel took a look Tuesday morning at a pleasant, forthrightly classical hotel design presented by architect Eric Zuena, of ZDS, in Providence. There’s a lot to like in the new design for an eight-story extended-stay hotel on the triangle-shaped Parcel 12 downtown. It is one of two being proposed for downtown. The design of the other one, on Fountain Street, seems hopeless. The one on Parcel 12 is being developed by James Karam of First Bristol. It appears to simply want to be an attractive traditional building like the best of its neighbors. Imagine that!
The design improves upon an earlier, more suburban-looking version that was rejected by the panel before it could reach a higher potential. Just putting a triangular building on that triangular land might be best, with a gentle curve along Memorial Boulevard and a courtyard in the middle. Still, the new design by Zuena, who grew up in Rhode Island but has practiced overseas, makes up for this missed opportunity with a building that, while oddly shaped, has a distinctly classical base/shaft/capital arrangement fortified by pilasters, stringcourses and a bold (although not quite yet an elegant) cornice on top.
Nice. That’s progress. I offer recommendations for further improvement:
- The moldings of the pilasters should feature curved lower lips rather than sharp edges. Maybe that is the intent, and it is merely the computer-aided design (CAD) program used by Zuena that suggests otherwise. Anyhow, since such elements are often fabricated on a machine these days rather than chiseled by stone carvers, it should cost little or no more to tweak the programmed settings and curve those moldings.
- Ditto the moldings of the stringcourses.
- The cornice wants more articulation, not necessarily dentils – squares lined up under the lower edge of a cornice that look like teeth – but at least more levels of molding. Importantly, the cornice should be extended entirely around the roof. Let’s not cheat Memorial Boulevard and, for that matter, the Woonasquatucket River.
- Some of the windows could use more verticality, either by extending each window downward a foot or so (there seems to be room), or by replacing the central steel mullion of each with a thicker mullion of brick – or a mixture of those strategies.
- The windows should also be set more deeply into the façades to increase the building’s sense of strength and authority.
- The stone of the pilasters bracing the base’s two stories shouldn’t be so much darker than the stone (or precast?) of the pilasters as they rise the rest of the building’s eight stories. Ditto the stringcourses and the cornice. The high quality of the stone used will create a more pleasingly subtle differentiation even if they are the same color. (That appears to have been accidentally accomplished in part of the rendering (see Kennedy Coffee) on top of this post, and it looks better.
If greater quality of detail is achieved, that absence of curvature along Memorial will be less of a lost opportunity. A building that merely uses traditional methods to aspire to the beauty of its neighbors is doing an awful lot these days. Union Station, the Post Office Annex and the Federal Building are probably feeling pretty optimistic about this design. It could set the bar much higher in the sweepstakes here in Providence for daring design – yes, a quest for plain old beauty is daring these days.
Here is a PDF of the development proposal presented on Tuesday morning.
Architect Zuena reports that the design panel of the often-clubfooted Capital Center Commission seemed to like it. Good. Let’s see what happens next.