The new addition to Grace Episcopal Church has opened on Westminster Street in downtown Providence. In this day and age, all additions to lovely old buildings are potentially hair-raising affairs. Churches are not immune to the insult of poor taste and modernist conceit, often boring from within. So when word got out that Grace planned an addition, concern was the proper response – in spite of assurances from its rector, the Rev. Canon Jonathan Huyck, that a design sensitive to the original was the goal.
Now that the Pavilion at Grace is open, no worries. Centerbrook Architects & Planners, in Centerbrook, Conn., has updated Richard Upjohn’s 1844 original Gothic Revival church – the first asymmetrical church of that style in America – with a touch of the Art Nouveau. A most inspired choice, given the pressure the rector must have felt to go full-tilt modernist.
Maybe the Pavilion at Grace also provides us with the true distinction between the terms modern (or modernist) architecture and contemporary architecture. Both modern and contemporary have similar connotations, and for most of their lives as words in the English language merely meant “of today.” But modern(ist) architecture implies a degree of devotion, at least, to its founding principles’ rejection of the past in general and, especially, of past styles, from which it rarely if ever deviates. Contemporary can then perhaps be interpreted, in architecture, as meaning (at its best) that which uses the latest design and construction techniques, without any sense of snubbing the past or past styles. (The Pavilion was built by Bowerman Associates.)
That’s what the Pavilion at Grace does so graciously, fulfilling (if I may be so bold as to suggest) the churchly role of anchor. At any time when change destabilizes society (often in good ways), religion should remind us that the future must be as much a continuation as a reformation of the past.
The Pavilion is an engaging and evocative, not to mention useful, feature of Westminster Street and downtown, whose strengths build on continuity with the past. Congratulations to Rev. Huyck, to his congregation at Grace, and to the downtown community!