Our stately house of state

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Shot from the roof of the Rhode Island State House, between the dome and a tourelle.

The other day who should pass through Providence on the way to view the mansions of Newport but Michael Rouchell, of New Orleans, founder of the Louisiana chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. No ICAA honcho can pass through Providence without taking in the capital’s famous State House, opened in 1901 after the design of Charles Follen McKim of McKim Mead & White, the leading architects of the Gilded Age.

We got there just a minute or two before entry is barred at 4:30 p.m. However, a Capitol Police officer kindly bid us enter and said we could visit and take pictures from spots on the Great Staircase from which he could keep us in view. The General Assembly was not in session. The place was empty. So in we stepped to behold its wonders. The central elements of the State House as rendered by McKim are exercises in the purity of classical form, capable of ennobling the meanest of spirits. Heaven forbid that the rapscallions we Rhode Islanders elect to send into this paragon of marble proportions should ever come to frame their legislative epiphanies from within the walls of a lesser shack.

Below are some of the photos I shot. The exteriors were snapped after we had left the building, with the sun’s rays slanting in from the horizon, but photographic protocol demands that they be exhibited first. The top shot I had taken years before.

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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, dbrussat@gmail.com, 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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6 Responses to Our stately house of state

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks David. Now THAT is a beautiful building, worthy of our admiration. The lousy modernists are jealous (in part I believe) because they don’t have the talent to do this.


  2. indisco33 says:

    Beautiful building, as you’ve noted previously, it would be criminal to suffocate it with that Amazon monstrosity. Two questions; have you ever been to Wisconsin’s State Capitol building in Madison and is Rouchell originally from Newport?


    • I have roots in Wisconsin, Indisco, but have never been to Madison. Michael is not from Newport. That was my error, a mental typo. Unfortunately, Facebook versions of posts don’t link back to blog, so if there are errors in original, they remain even after the blog version has been corrected. Sad. And frustrating.


  3. Karen Jessup says:

    Concerned you appear to focus your attention primarily on the wonderful State House BUILDING. I’d like for us ALL to realize that the SH building environs – its surrounding green spaces, pathways, scenic views into and out of the property, planted material, topography, siting and more – are critical to the significance of this icon of our democracy. They are as much a part of the state capital as the building. Informed Rhode Islanders are increasingly aware the State House grounds are under threat from development fostered by the state of RI itself and the DOT. This development is unnecessary, against Capital Center regulations, divisive, ill-considered, and insensitive to our collective memories. Monetizing significant green spaces owned by the people and held in trust for us by the state, such as DOT proposes to do at the SH grounds, is so wrong. The Intermodal hub and ancillary development may be needed, but there are other siting options. RI DOT and the Governor need to get creative and encourage development that doesn’t intrude onto hallowed ground.


    • Agree 100 percent, Karen. Have written extensively about the threat to the grounds, both vis a vis Amazon and DOT. As for the DOT/RIPTA angle, what is planned was not what was approved by voter bond referendum, which spoke of bus sub-hub at train station, not of it replacing Kennedy Plaza as main bus hub. If goal was to facilitate rider connections between station and Kennedy Plaza, a bus loop between station and KP would have worked just as well for far, far less taxpayer money.


  4. Steve says:

    Fabulous shots of a world class building! Another Providence landmark…


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