RISD rides to 195 rescue

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Proposed Wexford Science + Technology project on I-195 land. (gcpvd.org)

Governor Raimondo has invited the Rhode Island School of Design to help bring more innovation to the I-195 corridor. She has also hired the state’s first chief innovation officer, former CIA wonk Richard Culatta, who will work in splendid isolation from an office at Rhode Island College. Having also recast the corridor’s redevelopment team, hired a couple of PR firms to rebrand the state, and pushed through the General Assembly a slate of funding faucets to incentivize development, the governor seems to be serious about goosing the so-called Knowledge District toward a more robust expansion.

Let us hope the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission does not just pick up where the old team left off. The commission’s online booklet Toolkit for Developers is “innovative,” not innovative. It is filled with calls for innovation but is illustrated by the conventional wisdom. For each development parcel it proposes a selection of designs that amount to a mash of modernist massing with a mixture of tech and trad materials – an attempt to balance elite and public tastes that pleases nobody. The early design of the most ambitious project, by Wexford Science + Technology, does not even pretend to seek such a balance but goes all-in for a completely outdated exercise in glass-box modernism – as if time had stood still in the Miesian 1960s, with a few Gehry whoopee cushions thrown in for good measure. Likewise, at South Street Landing next door, plans are to block views of the site’s Beaux Arts power station – soon to be a state nursing school and Brown University offices – with a garage and two dorm sited so as to degrade views of the project’s iconic structure with yet more sterile, “building-as-machine” style boxes.

This is not innovation. It is an attack on the civic character that is one of the state’s very few competitive advantages.

So here’s hoping for a more genuinely innovative thrust, something that strengthens both the brand and the beauty of the Ocean State and its capital city – something that embraces design inspired by the architecture of the world’s most beautiful cities, including that of Providence, which already has more of it than almost every other American city.

Now there’s a new idea!

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Proposed two dorms next to Beaux Arts power station at South Street Landing. (gcpvd.org)

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.
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.

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