Update on Parcel 12 hotel

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Homewood Suites proposal for Parcel 12, in Providence (ZDS)

The civic leadership of Rhode Island and its capital, Providence, is using taxpayer dollars to initiate a series of development projects that may or may not be economically viable but will certainly undermine the city’s beauty – one of the state’s extraordinarily few competitive advantages.

Amid this folly, a developer from Fall River, First Bristol, has proposed a traditionally styled hotel for Parcel 12, a prominent location at the corner of Kennedy Plaza downtown. I have written about it several times before, how its design has improved with the hire of a new architect, Eric Zuena of ZDS, in Providence. It was approved yesterday by the Design Review Committee of the Capital Center Commission. If city zoning also accepts several variances the project may begin construction next May or June.

Is this good or bad?

Considered alongside all the bad design being inflicted upon Providence, I think it is good. The design lacks excitement, and still does not reflect in its design the curve of Memorial Boulevard. But it is distinctly traditional rather than modernist, and so it will fit into its setting reasonably well. Most of the buildings now being proposed in the city are modernist, and since that style thumbs its nose at context on principle, they all are certain to degrade the beauty of our built environment. At least the Homewood Suites on Parcel 12 will do no major harm, except by pre-empting a better building, which is not likely in Rhode Island.


Eric Zuena showing prefab cornice. (Photo by David Brussat)


Detail of proposed cornice. (Brussat)

Small adjustments, permissible perhaps even though its design has been approved, could still raise it from an “Oh, well” to an “Ah, yes!”

For example, as I arrived late at yesterday’s design meeting, Zuena was showing a segment of cornice that was a vast improvement over the vroomy cornice of earlier iterations. Thus far the design has featured the sort of stark, jutting cornice that reveals a desire to be hip. The cornice Zuena showed us had lovely cymba mouldings with beveled edgework.

I asked him after the meeting whether this was to replace the cornices on the renderings he had shown to the panel. No, he replied, he had it merely to display the materials and the construction technique that would be used to make the vroomy cornice.

Very sad. And yet the better cornice – so vital to the overall quality of a traditional design – could be introduced at this stage of the process. In theory, the developer could make the substitution even amid construction. These are known in the industry as “change orders.”

Either way, classical purists are likely to look down their noses at the design. They do not understand that in places like Providence beauty is under continual assault. A modestly attractive traditional design is far better than any modernist design if the goal is to protect a historical setting.

For example, today we love the Post Office on Exchange Street, with its attenuated Neo-Federal design embellished by Art Deco bas reliefs just south of Parcel 12, built in 1940. We realize now that even then much worse might have arisen. But at the time it was surely considered an aesthetic step down from the robust Neo-Classical federal courthouse just to its south, built in 1908, facing City Hall across Exchange Place (now Kennedy Plaza).

The Homewood Suites should be considered in that light, fortified by the hope that architecture in today’s Providence has nowhere to go but up.

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Memorial Boulevard facades of proposed hotel design. (ZDS)


Previous architect’s proposed design for Homewood Suites. (First Bristol)

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, 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.
This entry was posted in Architects, Architecture, Architecture Education, Architecture History, Art and design, Development, Providence, Rhode Island, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Update on Parcel 12 hotel

  1. Pingback: Roses and raspberries, 2015 | Architecture Here and There

  2. Brown '13 says:

    I agree with David. Sure, it might be a low-budget imitation of traditional design, but at least the architects are admitting that stone and brick are the right materials to make façades out of, even if they have to use cheaper substitutes and disguise them. Modernists are boldly unashamed of their low-quality materials, proudly shoving façades of unadorned concrete and steel into the public’s face and pretending it’s good design.


    • Part of the blame for this must lie with the public, but the bulk should lie not with the modernist architects, who are only shills out to make a buck, but with civic leaders and elected leaders who ought to have both the knowledge and the influence to put a stop to it, or at least to even the playing field.


  3. Anonymous says:

    MDF painted to “look” like stone and patinated copper is a sad excuse for architectural design. How do we stop this crap from overtaking the traditional beauty that has made the city famous.


    • I feel your pain, Anon., but the harsh reality is that this design prevents a much worse design from arising there, as it almost surely would. Anyway, MDF painted to “look” like stone is far better, if it actually does look like stone, than materials that piss on the idea of stone.


      • And it will just look like all the other new buildings downtown, all of which have begun to hide the beautiful buildings in their midst. Sad sad that this is considered a “good” outcome.


        • I feel your pain, too, Work In, but in fact it will not look just like any other new buildings in downtown – and its location means it’s unlikely to hide any beautiful buildings – as some of our newish modernist buildings do. Reality is uncomfortable, and the best must not be the enemy of the good.


          • Anonymous says:

            We shall see. I remember when the Providence Place Mall creators said there would be wonderful detailing that disappeared at the end because it would have taken them over budget. And so we got what you see today.


  4. Stephen ORourke says:

    I like it!


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