Trying to like this building


Capital Properties has proposed and the Capital Center Commission has apparently approved the design above for the parcel next to the almost supernaturally ugly Capital Cove, on land at Canal and Smith streets along the Moshassuck River. Here is what Kate Bramson wrote about it in her Jan. 20 story, “Commerce Corporation panel to consider incentives for Providence projects,” in the Providence Journal:

Seeking the other Rebuild RI credit for a $54-million residential development is John M. Corcoran & Co. LLC, and Trilogy Development.

That project, the Commons at Providence Station, has already won approval from the Capital Center Commission, said Todd D. Turcotte, vice president of Capital Properties Inc., which owns undeveloped parcels in Capital Center. A 247,850-square-foot project at Smith and Canal streets, it’s expected to consist of 169 apartments and about the same number of enclosed parking spaces.

I am striving to like its look. It is among the few amalgams of the old and the new, of traditional and modernist design, that seems to speak to me with civility rather than, as usual, looking daggers at me. I like its seemingly syncopated massing (at least from this angle) and the pilasters that grace the brick portions of its east-looking pavilions. They almost seem as if they want to refer to the State House, or at least to the old Transportation Building across Smith from the State House – but without the slightest idea how to do so. That might be considered damnation of the design by faint praise, but next to its closest neighbor, Capital Cove, it is a masterpiece. Perhaps my liking for the new proposal is wishful thinking, driven by my intense dislike of Capital Cove (below) – which started out very elegantly (bottom) but was destroyed by the “advice” of the Capital Center’s design panel.

I want to give this building a pass, even a nod. But would that be wrong?

(I’ve posted some TradArch answers to that question below the two photos, plus read comments by readers who did not get the post via TradArch.)


Capital Cove, to left of site of proposed new building. (


Originally proposed design for what became Capital Cove. (Brussat archives)


Here are some comments from TradArch list members:

From Sara Hines, in three emails:

If there is a style that will be immediately recognized as “of the second decade of the 21st century” this is surely it. I think it is economically driven and also due to the general lack of aesthetic interest by the architectural community, particularly at the mercy of commercial developers. The façades are fairly flat and the “rainscreen” design – they no longer talk about façades or skins in the same way, it’s “rainscreen” and it has specialists who study it. There are few choices that fit into the economic number-crunching so the level of invention is limited to odd compositions of available cheap materials, arranged in stripes and blocks and using the spectrum of brick veneer, EIFS, and maybe some metal panel stuff plus the big areas of glass. With a bunch of money you might get some thin terra-cotta tiles.  The concept that a parapet design addresses how a building terminates against the sky seems to have vanished, and the idea of how a building meets the ground is usually bluffed with bad shrubs.  The focus is on the abstract composition of the impoverished choices for the façade.

The main improvement I see is that the building surrenders to the blanding of new architecture rather than aspiring to the bizarre and twisted. …

Revit is a lobotomy for architects, and unfortunately those in school are learning it faster and sooner. The defaults of this system give you pork-chop eave designs, really bad stairs, and in the end a heavy dependence on downloadable commercial products, made by corporations who are big enough to get their products produced as plug-in “smart” objects. If you want to create custom details or even just better details, you have to create a lot of nested “families.” This is the program that AutoDesk has used to proclaim that they are reinventing architecture.  Yes, so it seems, they have. …

I should add that architects are victims as well as perpetrators in this system.  It takes ingenuity to work around the limitations on materials and what a contractor will do without jacking up the prices just because he feels intimidated by a different idea.  Ingenuity doesn’t figure into a business that is run for profit these days.

From Andres Duany:

This is a hideous hick design job that could only pass approval in a culturally clueless city or one insecure about its own value. A beggar of a city. Which Providence is not.

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,, 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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7 Responses to Trying to like this building

  1. Peter Allen says:

    Although it complements and fits with the other Capital Cove complex, it is pretty hideous as is the first CC complex. It would be easy to write off that section of the city except for the fact that it is across the street from one of the finest green space/parks in the city and backs up to the magnificent state house. Reject this horror and put up something that fits with the state house (even if it just references it somehow) and remands the other CC complex to the status of a footnote.

    Peter Allen


  2. “From Andres Duany: This is a hideous hick design job that could only pass approval in a culturally clueless city or one insecure about its own value. A beggar of a city. Which Providence is not.” I thank Mr. Duany for making it clear that the emperor may be wearing clothes but they are so ugly we should turn our heads and ask him to take them off.


  3. I think it is just as bad as the Capitol Cove. In fact, when I first looked at it that is what I thought it was. God save Providence from another tri-color building with neither charm nor grace.


  4. It could break the precedent that each project must be uglier than the previous in Capital Center. It’s not that worthy of resect, but maybe with enough nudging…

    Liked by 1 person

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