Death wish in Providence?

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Look, Ma! No GTECH! … Other images of R.I.’s Amazon HQ2 pitch below. (CommerceRI)

When I saw the image above of Rhode Island’s pitch for Amazon’s HQ2, in today’s Providence Journal (“Envisioning Amazon’s HQ2 in heart of Capital Center“), I thought I imagined Deming Sherman’s head explode. But no, that was my head exploding.

Deming Sherman is the Capital Center Commission chairman who has defended Capital Center’s green spaces from proposals to build a new bus hub that would encroach on the State House lawn. He must have thought it was April 1 when he saw the newly released images of the HQ2 proposal. It does not encroach upon the State House lawn – it does not need to. It merely sledgehammers the whole place to smithereens.

Everybody knows that to the extent Providence is a delightful place with a bright future ahead, it is because the city is beautiful. In the 1960s it dodged the bullet of urban renewal. Since that time, it has preserved its historical character more faithfully and succumbed to fashion far less avidly than most other American cities. Yet virtually all current development proposals have embraced fashion, sashaying down the architectural runway decked out in egotecture designed not to be worn but to be flaunted as markers of ultimate municipal hip. Radical Chic in blueprints and T-squares. Tom Wolfe’s famous essay leaps to mind, with its Fifth Avenue society dames throwing parties for radical bomb-throwers. Not healthy.

The new CommerceRI HQ2 pitch images beat all, clogging downtown with stark and sterile towers that would drown out everything beautiful here, squelching our city’s human scale, blocking views of the State House and almost everything else we love, from almost every direction.

A stompathon.

Do Providence and Rhode Island have a death wish?

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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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17 Responses to Death wish in Providence?

  1. Michael J. Tyrrell says:

    The renderings are an embarrassment!.. What baffles me is the Commerce Commission’s urban design illiteracy. Why would any state government permit a single corporate entity to physically dominate its statehouse? That’s nuts!… This vision makes the Albany Mall look like Harvard Square!… To your point David, we should be promoting our brand. This grease-ball land-grab approach damages it.


  2. Steve says:

    No fear. None of these renderings are even close to what will be if we – PROVIDENCE – win the bid.


    • You are right, Steve, they will surely be different if they do get built. Such drawings are not meant to be final versions of concepts. Still, however different, they are likely to be just as bad if not worse.


  3. barry says:

    Ugh, but, maybe the renderings were satire, making fun of modern architecture??
    No sea of surface parking lots? Can’t be a real RI proposal!


  4. petervanerp says:

    The architect of those abortions is a RISD grad. What did Providence do to make him hate it so?


  5. Eric Daum says:

    This is so horrifying, that even as a fantasy project, it defies belief that any architect could have conceived it. But someone did. I weep for my profession. This is such a blatantly awful idea that it makes Edward Durell Stone’s 1960’s Masterplan (of which the DoH’s Cannon Building was the only built portion) look subtle and refined. “Hey, let’s take one of the masterpieces of American architecture and bury it amidst a jumble of soulless Neo-Modern boxes.” Some adjectives that might apply: tone deaf, arrogant, megalomaniacal, artless, inept, uninformed, clueless, and anti-urban.


    • I will add those imprecations to my list, Eric! And by the way, I think I actually like that Cannon Building. I’m sure that’s not the one that TAC (associated with Gropius) built, is it?


      • Eric Daum says:

        The Cannon was by Edward Durrell Stone. In whose office I had my first Architecture job. Though he was long dead by the time I worked there.


    • Michael J. Tyrrell says:

      It’s so illiterate. I just don’t get how the heritage of Providence can be SO overlooked. This is megamaniacal balderdash!..


  6. I hope you are right, Anon. I recently proposed an outside-the-box HQ2 pitch for Providence (see “How R.I. can get Amazon”), but CommerceRI was evidently not paying attention!


  7. Anonymous says:

    They have about as much chance of winning the Amazon lottery as winning Mega Millions top prize.


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