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project, by Wexford Science + Technology, does not even pretend to seek such a balance but goes all-in for a completely outdated exercise in glass-box modernism – as if time had stood still in the Miesian 1960s, with a few Gehry whoopee cushions thrown in for good measure.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!