Prov’s halfway to Houston

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Proposed “River View Hotel” on South Water Street. (Kendall Hotel LLC)

Those who are running Providence these days should realize that a beautiful city can become an ugly city. It will not happen at once, but it is likely to happen before most people notice it, and too late to be stopped.

Providence seems hell-bent on ugly. In “Developer proposes Providence riverfront hotel on former 195 land,” today’s Providence Journal reports a proposed “River View Hotel” on South Water Street, along the embank- ment of the Providence River. The drawing above tells the tale. It looks as if it belongs on Jefferson Boulevard, in Warwick. (Someday I will have to apologize when Providence itself looks like Jefferson Boulevard.)

The five-story hotel will put its thumb into view corridors toward downtown from 195 and toward the waterfront and new 195 bridge from downtown.

For that matter, look at the new garage built at South Street Landing, near the old power plant being renovated as two state nursing schools. (That’s not a typo. The two schools are apparently not going to merge.) The garage is tarted up with shiny screened panels. On the ground floor are huge black-and-white photos of old Providence. These are supposed to help us forgive and forget the garage’s assault on the neoclassical power station, views of which the garage also blocks for those driving south on Allens Avenue.

Jef Nickerson, who runs the indispensable Greater City Providence blog, recently stated, “‘Eddy Street is so vibrant!’ nobody will say, ever.” He is correct, though he was probably referring to the lack of ground-floor retail along the street edge of the garage, not how ugly it is. But why would any retailer want to lease space in such a dog? (How, wonders Nickerson, did its developer manage to get an exemption for that? By promising to put up historic shots of how beautiful Providence used to be?)

The residential buildings proposed for the other side of the power plant, in the parking lot for the old Davol Square, take their architectural bearings not from the power plant but from the garage!

Right next to the news of the proposed River View Hotel is news that state officials are still churning about the proposed bus subhub at Providence Station, just a couple of blocks from Kennedy Plaza. Voters approved a bond referendum to build this white elephant, but officials still don’t really know what to do, except they are sure they want a “skyline altering” tower to go with it. (Just as I am beginning to feel kindly toward the modernist design of Providence Station, newly restored, they want to wreck it.)

Now, according to “R.I. DOT hits ‘reset’ button on ‘skyline altering’ project,” there is talk of putting state employees into the proposed tower. That means the project has had problems luring potential tenants. But what the transit folks thought they needed – a better connection between Kennedy Plaza and the train station – could have been provided with a bus loop at several thou- sand bucks a year. Instead, the public will pay multi-millions for a new bus hub with a skyscraper attached. So far, its appearance has not been hinted at, let alone illustrated with a rendering. Good luck with that!

In the past year there have been more than enough news stories of bad architecture we’ll have to suffer soon. Some call this development, but it would be so easy for the governor to ask developers to propose projects that bolster the state brand instead of undermining it. And they would probably agree. They are much more interested in retaining the good will of the state (and taxpayers) than in upholding their “right” to build ugly. The point is that we are speeding toward Houston. Unless we get off this bus soon, we will be there before anyone notices. Having thrown away one of our chief competitive advantages – our reputation for beauty – our economic pros- pects might also turn out to be up a creek.

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Garage at South Street Landing. (South Street Landing)

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Providence Station, newly restored and soon to have skyscraper attached. (Architect)

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South Street Power Station, built in 1913. (South Street Landing)

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Apartment buildings along waterfront. (Greater City Providence)

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.
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11 Responses to Prov’s halfway to Houston

  1. Pingback: No, not halfway to Houston | Architecture Here and There

    • Leveveg – Good luck to you and to Gjøvik, and please let me express my pleasure at your translating a passage from this post into a passage referring to Gjøvik. Thank you! And thank you for putting Architecture Here and There on your blog roll.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure what the plethora of smallish (less than 150 rooms) hotels can do for Providence. We are losing giant events such as the Jeffrey Osborne Charity Classic to Connecticut – I believe Mohegan – which has 2 golf courses and all the rooms and dining/meeting spaces they need in one place. While the charity part will still, for the most part, come back to RI – at least for the present time – look at all the business that will be lost in sleeping rooms, dinners, entertainment, etc. Not that I would like to see this built in Providence – but – how about a beautiful large facility that could accommodate these larger events? Speaking purely on the renderings of ALL of these hotels being proposed for Providence – in 25-50 years – if they are still standing – it will be a “what were they thinking to do this?” Ahh…they weren’t thinking at all.

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  3. Clayton E. Fulkerson says:

    I assume that the only redeeming feature of Providence Station, the dome, will be sacrificed?

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    • Probably, Clay. But there’s a possibility that they might put the addition over the railroad tracks to the north. That would contribute maximally to the engineering expenses!

      I’m hoping they’ll be consistent and plop a traditional skyscraper on a modernist train station for a change instead of the usual mod addition to a trad building.

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  4. Steve says:

    One big disagreement. You state “…be so easy for the governor to ask developers to propose projects that bolster the state brand instead of undermining it.”

    There is no “state brand” and never should be.That is the old “Rhode Island mentality” – small New England town frame of reference – that limits Providence’s growth as a major city.

    It is the PROVIDENCE brand that must be defined and given acceptable boundries of variance.

    I do agree that given broadly defined variance from the “Providence look” is not a deal breaker for developers.

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  5. Kenneth J. Filarski says:

    What is being proposed is truly unispiring and uninspired.

    Like

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