Graceful pavilion at Grace

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The Pavilion at Grace, Grace Episcopal Church, Providence. (Bowerman Associates)

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!

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These two images are the interior (lower top) and the plan (lower bottom) of the Pavilion. (Centerbrook)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. 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. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and 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 invest your prose with even more style and clarity, 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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4 Responses to Graceful pavilion at Grace

  1. Bill and Eathel Weimer says:

    This building and congregation led by a wonderful pastor and staff along with the pastor’s loving family is a visible tribute to the glory of God. We enjoyed worshipping in your church during the Thanksgiving holidays.
    By His grace,
    Bill and Eathel Weimer

    Like

  2. Beautifully done. Great to see this, thanks for posting it David.

    Like

    • Unaccountably, the city of Providence has done a pretty good job of keeping really awful stuff out of the downtown’s “Downcity” neighborhood, its old commercial district. Locals have every reason to fear, however, that such gentleness could come to a screeching halt in the case of a church addition. Thankfully, that did not happen.

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  3. Thankful for the grace….

    Like

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