Crane, yay! Building, boo!

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Rendering of 169 Canal St. (“Edge College Hill”) shows a spotty setting. (DBVW)

Providence breathes a sigh of relief at the appearance, finally, of a crane on its horizon, standing between Canal and North Main streets just north of Steeple. Enjoy the crane, folks, because you may regret the building.

Developed by Vision Properties, designed by DBVW Architects, and branded as Edge College Hill, the building leaves much to be desired. Its height grew from 10 to 15 stories during the development process. Fine. That is much taller than most of its neighbors. But its windows, set oh so slightly into its façades, register as plasticky and insubstantial. It is a box of syncopated fenestration – a modernist cliché. It copies the past – alas, the recent past, from which is purged the embellishment that creates love for buildings. Above the ground-floor retail, its 202 microlofts are aimed at students. As such, it has no provision for parking, perhaps its sole redeeming feature.

When time has decimated a neighborhood, leaving swaths of parking, it makes sense, when the moment at last arrives, to erect new buildings that match or exceed the aesthetic quality of the intact stretches of its nearby setting. Instead, we are to get 169 Canal St. – Edge College Hill.

Somebody has dropped the ball.

The Providence Preservation Society has done an excellent job protecting the beauty of this city since its creation in 1956. It has saved hundreds if not thousands of beloved houses and other buildings. However, PPS and other organizations that care about preservation fail to follow through. They fail to protect the settings of the buildings they preserve. Historic parking lots such as the one that 169 Canal will occupy play a subtle role. They preserve space for new buildings – often, as in this case, for decades – and we have every right to expect to love those new buildings. This standard was not met by Edge College Hill, and few in Providence development or preservationist circles seem to care.

A crane is not enough. It should exist to build a building worthy of the space it stands upon – even if that is just a parking lot.

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View of proposed 169 Canal St. from Steeple Street Bridge. (DBVW)

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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3 Responses to Crane, yay! Building, boo!

  1. Eric Daum says:

    I had seen this awhile ago and today I ma no less disgusted. The scale is so wrong for that site. The two story windows only exaggerate the problem. Surely they can do better.


    • Eric and Steve – Yes, they can do better. In fact, I would argue that doing better would be very easy. Unlike solving such problems as fixing education, reducing crime, healing the racial bitterness of our nation, reducing our deficit, creating jobs, etc., making our cities beautiful again would be as simple, relatively speaking, as flipping a switch.


  2. Steve says:

    How true.

    The rendering is pitiful and not accurate. The building height appears to be deliberately minimized – it will be almost exactly the same as the Citizens tower. As to the design…you said it well. Very disappointing for that immediate area. Almost cheap. While the city should not nit-pick design (as it has in some cases); it need not be that desperate and should not be careless.


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