Fane tower versus beauty

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Providence River looking north from Point Street Bridge. (gregdubois.com)

Charles Denby is a Barrington doctor who has allied himself with the push for more art and sculpture in Providence. He doesn’t see why Providence should not have some major iconic work of art such as The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen.

But Denby considers the skyscraper proposed by Jason Fane as more eyesore than icon. He has penned a statement against Fane’s 46-story tower from an aesthetic point of view. He does not think the City Council should let it rise three times higher than zoning allows. Here is his statement, which was published as a letter to the editor in today’s Providence Sunday Journal:

The cities of Amsterdam and Paris – to highlight only two of many examples – are admirably self-aware. They are aware that people love to stroll along the canals and  the Seine. They are careful not to disrupt the sense of openness, the lightness of being that derives from proximity to these watercourses. They abide by an aesthetic which is both implicit and established by tradition, and limit the height of buildings near these waterfronts.
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Hence, I pose the question: Does anybody seriously believe that a 46-story tower would pass review if a developer proposed to build it along the canals or the Seine? I suggest that the authorities in Amsterdam or Paris would simply have a good laugh over that one, dismissing it as obviously absurd, as patently ruinous to the appearance and the appeal of their city.
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And ruinous it will be if Jason Fane succeeds in erecting his out-of-scale, out-of-place, aesthetically incompatible 46-story monstrosity on the western bank of the Providence River. To boot, in Amsterdam and Paris and in the many other cities around the world more skilled in the art of crafting pleasing urban settings, they will be laughing at us.
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Denby kindly and logically imagines that because the canals of Amsterdam and the embankments of the River Seine are beautiful today, civic leaders there can be trusted to continue to protect the beauty of their waterfronts. That may be so in Amsterdam. In Paris, whether height limits protect the Seine directly or not, Mayor Hidalgo has embarked on a program to uglify the City of Light, not just by introducing skyscrapers within the city’s boundaries but also by dumbing down the ornamental features of benches, kiosks and other street furniture that heretofore has been designed to augment the city’s beauty.
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That’s too bad, of course, and hopefully she will be voted out before too much damage is done. Still, her desire to rape Paris does not undercut but only strengthen’s the validity of the sentiments expressed by Charles Denby about the obnoxious Fane tower proposal, which is way too tall and, regardless of its height, is architecturally incompatible with the city’s historical character.
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Of course, the Fane Tower is just one of many affronts arising along the Providence waterfront. These include a proposed hotel on the east side of the river, and on the west side of it the Wexford complex, whose steel frame is nearing completion, as are the frames of the two Brown dormitories that will block views of the beautiful 1912 power plant at South Street Landing, as the hideous garage recently completed blocks views of it from the north.
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Providence civic leaders are clearly uninterested in protecting the beauty of Providence, either along the river or anywhere else.
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We have yet to see a rendering of Fane’s latest version, the “white tower with sculptured curves.” The Fane project might be blocked, however, because City Council will soon vote on whether to exempt its 470-foot height from a zoning limit of 130 feet. It has already received permission from the state to shrink the abutting park. The City Council, however, is filled with honorable men and women who may be expected to vote for the public interest, not that of a developer who has ridiculed the city for its many historic districts.
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Well, we are allowed to hope, are we not? “Hope” is Rhode Island’s motto.
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Hope Point Tower, proposed by the Fane Organization. (Fane)

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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7 Responses to Fane tower versus beauty

  1. csbcohen says:

    ‘Tis all a matter of taste, but for my money that would be a carbuncle anywhere

    Like

  2. Michael Tyrrell says:

    I am not against towers per se, but this one is projected for the wrong area. Meanwhile the Industrial Trust Tower continues to stand vacant, is surrounded by empty parking lots, and vagrancy is the order of the day… Don’t these 195 Commission folks know how to horsetrade?… Fane should exchange air-rights for tax credits that could help finance new towers in Downtown proper -along Wickendon and Westminster- so the city generally, and the riverfront specifically, go unmolested.

    Like

  3. Eric Daum says:

    The (Pro)Fane tower has nothing to do with making a city and everything to do with greed. Why do we have zoning laws to protect the civic realm when a developer can sidestep the law and and seek a variance? If the City Council votes to approve the tower, they have sacrificed the long-term good for the short term faith that jabs and the economy will be stimulated. The responsible answer is to say, “Go back and try again, and don’t waste our time.”

    Like

    • Right, Eric. If we aren’t going to abide by zoning, let’s not have it and reap the economic benefits of not requiring developers to jump through hoops. We may not like our city very much afterward, but at least it would lack hypocrisy.

      Like

  4. I’m glad that Charles Denby seems to dislike the style of the building as much as its height. That’s important, too.

    Like

  5. petervanerp says:

    I thought you were the author when i read the letter in the ProJo. I’m glad to see others taking up the cry against the crapification of everything (h/t Yves Smith).

    Like

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