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.