No, not halfway to Houston

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Yesterday’s post, “Prov’s halfway to Houston,” generated some blowback in my own mind, especially when, later in the day, I came across two reports that lifted my heart and my hopes about Providence and its future. Maybe “halfway” to Houston is a little too pessimistic.

On my visit to the website of Greater City Providence in search of illustrations of the South Street Landing garage, I happened upon the agenda of the Downtown Design Review Committee‘s March 13 meeting. It had a rendering of the building proposed by Buff Chace to fill the parking lot of the Providence Journal, whose office at 75 Fountain St. (where I worked for 30 years) he had purchased a year or so before, along with the lot across the street. At that time he suggested to reporters that he had a building in mind for the lot, and hinted that it would be traditional in style. Well, as you see from the above illustration, by Cube3 Architects, he is a man of his word.

Of course, no rendering gives more than a general idea of what a building will look like upon completion. The drawing above suggests, however, that even without additional detail beyond what is shown, the building would add significantly to its setting – not a high bar on Fountain, but every little bit helps. Perhaps the pilasters on the building’s ground floor and middle floors and on the columns of its top floor could boast fasciae or other types of molding to bring out the vivacity of otherwise plain, static piers.

Another reason to smile at developments downtown – here I refer to the old downtown, not the recently expanded downtown of D-1 zoning, which takes in the Jewelry District and the I-195 Corridor – is at the gracious intersection of Westminster and Mathewson streets, where Grace Episcopal Church’s new parish hall or pavilion is taking shape.

To judge by the renderings below, it will look mahvelous!

Apparently, some early concepts for the pavilion were modernist. I did a couple of posts on the proposal, for which no design had been publicly released. (See “Failure of grace alert!,” “Reverend, grace and Grace,” and “More grace in glass additions.”) Whatever effect those may have had back in 2015, the final design by Centerbrook Architects looks suavely elegant in a decidedly traditional manner. The delicate tracery of its front glass façade sets an appropriate Gothic theme. Its gable roof hints to observers that the pavilion intends to fit into the setting of Grace Church, built in 1845 to Richard Upjohn’s Gothic Revival specifications. (Believe it or not, modern architects consider it a virtue to elbow the ribs of old buildings with con- trasting new ones that don’t fit.)

The pavilion will fill what was once a parking lot. In fact, the lot was created on the site of the old Nickel Theater, a gorgeous confection whose unfortu- nate demolition damaged its ecclesiastical neighbor. Speaking of which, it looks as if the demolition of the Fogarty Building between Fountain and Sabin streets, a block away, has been halted temporarily, at least in part due to fears of injuring the poopy postmodernist building in which the toymaker Hasbro has offices. (Its cubic logo does a regrettable pirouette up above.)

But rest assured, the “iconic” example of modernist Brutalism is coming down. The hotel destined to replace the Fogarty started out with a modernist design suitable for (again) poor Jefferson Boulevard. But the Procaccianti Group, bless it, switched to a traditional design. Another hotel going up just off of Burnside Park/Kennedy Plaza is also traditional in style, thanks to the intelligent sensibility of First Bristol Corp., which developed the pleasing Hampton Inn on Weybosset Street. Neither of the trad hotels soon to break ground are quite up to snuff from a strictly canonical classicist perspective, but they definitely push downtown’s stylistic needle in the right direction.

It seems that downtown developers (and their municipal overseers) are obeying the law that mandates that new development protect downtown’s historic character, whereas the developers of the I-195 Corridor are decidedly not obeying the law. The governor and the mayor clearly do not care. They do not care about strengthening the city’s natural brand. They sacrifice beauty and historic character to future profits that their own lack of care may be expected to negate. They are, to be gentle, nincompoops.

But again, maybe I am too pessimistic. It is not too late to flip-flop in a more alluring direction. Just do it.

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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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2 Responses to No, not halfway to Houston

  1. I love the maze in the courtyard!


  2. How lovely the church courtyard! How lovely the church venue is – and a nice new anchor for that end of the city where people pass by going to PPAC, etc.


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