Update on Carpionato plan

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Sketch of the original 2013 Carpionato project on I-195 land. (Carpionato Group)

My intention today was to run images of both the 2013 and the 2018 proposals by the Carpionato Group for a development that was originally proposed four or five years ago. But Carpionato politely asked me to withhold the 2018 images pending their official submission to the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, since the firm is apparently still going toe-to-toe with other developers for at least some of the land involved.

I cannot even imagine that a competing proposal would try to fit into its setting as well as this one does. The odds are against that. Industry standards frown on compatibility and continuity with their settings, let alone beauty. I would not want to put this plan in dutch, so I will hold the new images until they go public in several weeks. (My blog is not one of those creepy news organizations that are always lusting after “scoops.”)

Nevertheless, the purpose of this post is to applaud the proposal, note some of the changes since 2013, and to push the commission to act quickly and, if this plan is selected, to hold it to the highest possible design standards. I assume that discussing the new plan, using words, is not out of bounds. If it is, then why did Carpionato let the Jewelry District Association host last night’s briefing? Other people were taking pictures. What if some of those shots are published? Would that blow the lid off this project? Maybe this is a plot by the modernists!

The briefing was given by Carpionato associate Kelly Coates and held at South Street Landing, about which more in another post. It was my first visit. Coates said the firm hopes to build the project all at once in under two years, starting as soon as permitting is completed.

When the project was first announced in 2013 , the sketch above was printed large on the front page of the Journal. I was smitten. Despite the fact that architectual renderings do not necessarily reflect a plan as it will emerge from the design process or as it is built, it seemed like a very good beginning, very much at odds with most of what Providence (and the world) had seen in proposals and in finished buildings in recent decades.

The buildings in the earlier sketch are smaller than the buildings in the later sketch, but the traditional feel of the design remains intact. Both massing and style have become more commercial. The roofscape’s gables have been flattened out a bit. Because the square footage is larger, there is less room in the middle of the block between South Main and South Water streets, north of Wickenden. It no longer seems to invite the delicious possibility of the winding cozy passages cloaked in palms, flowers and verdure, and lined with shops along the interiors of blocks on ritzy Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Fla.

There are no longer footbridges spanning South Water and Wickenden streets. The width of Dollar Street, which regulations for the 195 land rightly insist on preserving, seemed to shrink between the first and second versions, and it was hard to see on the sketch, but Coates assured his audience last night that it is still there – for pedestrians and delivery access, but not for regular traffic.

The earlier sketch featured a delightfully small number of off-kilter details on a few buildings, clearly meant to avoid offending modernists, even if they do introduce a slight measure of bipolar schism to the aesthetic. These include stretches of floor-to-ceiling glass, clunky and seemingly useless posts that slant out from balconies, that sort of thing. Modernists will be upset by the absence of more such stuff, and that their tastes have not fared better in the updated sketch. We may hope that such features as remain will be edited out as the design process proceeds, not multiplied.

Detailing and materials are vital in projects like this, which can slide into a kind of suburban shopping-center blandness during the design process. The feel of the project seems very, very nice, but at this stage that impression could be from the high quality and the delight of the sketches more than the actual intentions of the developer – notwithstanding the pleasant murmurs of assurance from Coates.

For example, during his presentation Coates noted that in designing a set of commercial buildings, “this tenant can fare better because that tenant looks better.” And vice versa, of course, extending throughout the project.

Coates spent a lot of time expressing the intention of Carpionato Group to fit this major project into the historic character of Providence and Fox Point.  If they succeed, the project’s impact could well be as influential as the impact of Yale’s two new traditional campuses in New Haven. That is an ambitious but entirely reasonable, achievable goal – not just for Providence and Rhode Island but for the nation and the world. Yes, this project is that important.


Here is a post, “The Carpionato proposal for 195 land,” that includes more renderings from the original proposal back in 2013.

By the way, Kelly Coates mentioned a project of 459 luxury residential units in a pair of buildings on Harris Avenue, along the Woonasquatucket River behind the Providence Place mall. Drawings suggested that it could be of almost Parisian charm. Announced a year ago, it is, Coates said, three-quarters the way through the permitting process. My post on that project from Dec. 22, 2016, is called “Carpionato rides again!?” It is illustrated below.

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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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3 Responses to Update on Carpionato plan

  1. Pingback: Carpionato’s latest 195 plan | Architecture Here and There

  2. Anonymous says:

    I would urge a re-thinking of that street elevation. The scale is good but the design is truly under-developed.


  3. There is so much this company is doing – a full build-out behind Chapel View and repurposing of the large white Citizens Bank – to include re-ramping of Route 37 and traffic studies. All the Bennys projects. Major developments on Atwood Ave. They have a very large – and getting larger footprint in development in RI.


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