Tower on State House lawn

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Rhode Island State House. (David Brussat)

And for no good reason.

Grok this, fellow Rhode Islanders: The state wants to place a new transit hub along with a tower on land near the State House, possibly right on the State House lawn. The original proposed site for this complex, now rejected as too expensive, was over the railroad tracks directly north of Providence Station, and hence equally obnoxious to the state’s most revered landmark. Some of the newly revealed alternative sites, such as on the parking lot that used to be part of the State House lawn, are even closer to the capitol, designed by Charles Follen McKim and opened in 1901. The state’s preferred site, at the northwest corner of Station Park (the grassy land west of the station) at Gaspee and Francis streets, would violate the Capital Center Commisson’s supposedly inviolate dedication to that land as open space.

The Providence Journal story “Part of R.I. State House lawn eyed for transit hub,” by Patrick Anderson, lays out the facts minus the outrage.

The proposed hub complex and tower would directly compete with the State House. No site thus far suggested, either on its lawn or near the station, would fail to block one or another view corridor through Capital Center to the State House. Depending on its height and design, the complex with its tower would either overwhelm the State House or diminish its dominant place on Smith Hill – or both.

And what for? To create a new subsidiary transit hub to better connect the train station to the main hub at Kennedy Plaza. Voters approved a multi-million dollar bond issue for the new hub without being told that it would include a tower to compete with the State House.

The desire to make it easier for riders debarking in Kennedy Plaza to reach Providence Station and vice versa is valid. But a new hub complex is an outrageously costly way to accomplish the goal. Instead, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority should institute a minibus loop between the two destinations. That would cost several thousand dollars a year, and would entirely accomplish RIPTA’s goal.

The project has already failed as an economic development tool. That is proved by the fact that the state now sees state offices as a likely occupant of the tower, rather than a private, lease-paying tenant, which the Department of Transportation has as yet been unable to identify. Proponents of the supposed public/private hub complex describe it as a perfect example of transit-oriented design – development around bus, train and light rail stops. I think they are mistaken. TOD is not normally meant to trash state icons.

It appears that RIDOT now describes its goal for Kennedy Plaza in terms that seem to suggest removing the bus nexus at Kennedy Plaza entirely to the area of the train station. If so, then voters were hoodwinked by the state’s bond rhetoric, which originally foresaw a sub-hub at the train station still subservient to the main Kennedy Plaza hub.

This entire proposal needs to be given a second look. That should occupy officials and the legislature for about half an hour. Nix it now.

As for the $35 million bond approved in 2014, it should go to deficit reduction. Or maybe it should go to advancing the originally proposed Kennedy Plaza renovation imagined by the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy and designed by Union Studio. Yet that design seems to have disappeared (“frogmarched,” as I warned in 2014) from project pages on the RIPTA and Conservancy websites. If I am mistaken and the Union Studio design remains part of Kennedy Plaza’s future, it should include the removal of the sterile bus waiting kiosks erected in 2015 and their replacement by the elegant Art Nouveau kiosks removed to make way for the ugly new ones

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Originally proposed Kennedy Plaza renovation. (Union Studio)

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New bus kiosks after 2015 Kennedy Plaza renovation. (Greater City Providence)

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Former bus kiosks that should be returned. (Photo by David Brussat)

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Proposed bus hub site on State House lawn half-way between State House and Waterplace. (CCC)

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 Tower on State House lawn

  1. There’s no drawing for it yet, Nancy, nor, so far as I know, a site nor any real plan for what the complex would consist of – which is good, because maybe there’s time to stop it. Let people know they’re spending dozens of millions on something that could be done for a few thousand and maybe that will have some kind of an effect. Maybe.


  2. Can you imagine putting that blight right up against one of the only expanses of grass and formality as one looks up or walks near the RI State House. Can you tell us more about a planned “tower”?


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