Fight the Fane tower design

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Fane tower in context (l.); Fane tower height chart; Fane tower view from downtown. (WPRI)

All who oppose the Fane tower should attend Monday’s meeting of the Downtown Design Review Committee at 4:45 p.m. in the city’s planning department – the modernist brick building at Westminster and Empire streets. The size of the crowd mustered by opponents will have a powerful effect on the tall, ugly building’s future – which will have a powerful effect on the future of Providence.

This will be the applicant’s first appearance before one of the city’s design authorities. Previous appearances have been before the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission, the City Plan Commission, the Ordinance Committee of the City Council and the council itself. The tower’s aggressive height, which violated the comprehensive plan until council gave it a pass, came closest to derailing it so far, but Monday’s meeting will be the first time other aspects of its design will be discussed. No action will be taken by the committee.

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Proposed Fane tower. (WJAR)

The major reason to oppose the building is not its height, the spot-zoning issue, or the lack of affordable housing. While each of those are valid reasons to object, it is the Fane tower’s rejection of the city’s historical character that will have the most dramatic and long-lasting negative effect on Providence.

Fortunately, Providence’s 2014 comprehensive plan mandates that its historical character be protected. Unfortunately, neither the city nor the opponents of the Fane tower appear to understand why it is so important to protect Providence’s historical character. Few have objected to other buildings planned, completed or under construction in the I-195 corridor, even though they are just as disrespectful to the city’s historical character as the Fane tower would be.

The comprehensive plan’s protections are honored by city officials and developers mainly in the breach, and the capital city of Rhode Island has grown uglier and uglier for half a century. Fortunately, the city is so rich in historical character that it still seems more beautiful than otherwise. But that will not last very long if the Fane tower is built. It will encourage even more ugliness. Eventually, Providence will be no more attractive than Worcester or Hartford. By the time enough people notice to call a halt, it will be too late.

Then we will see how big a factor beauty is in our economy and future.

Maybe tomorrow Fane will show up with yet another new design, something far less provocative than the original design, with its three sterile towers, the next with its single sterile tower, and now the latest with its squirmy-wormy look. Maybe a new design will fit in. Don’t hold your breath. The developer has heard little from its opponents to suggest they are serious about their objections to its design other than its height.

So, as they say, any port in a storm. Although protecting Providence’s beauty is the best reason to oppose the Fane tower, people whose opposition centers on other flaws in the proposal should gather at the meeting on Monday. This is not a public hearing, so no one except for the applicant, Fane, will get to speak. But the power of opposition to the Fane tower will be calculated by who shows up at this meeting, and that kind of power is influential at City Hall. So it is of vital importance to attend.

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Fane tower, if built, would occupy Parcel 42, in orange. (Providence Journal)

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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24 Responses to Fight the Fane tower design

  1. Mark Rothko says:

    wow…Really i like your design tower.Well, congratulations! That’s exactly the point!

    Like

  2. Steve says:

    David, please.

    First, of course there are always events that can derail any development. But, as you previously stated, “more likely to be approved than not”. Overwhelming so.

    Second, the Innovation District is and always has been part of the downtown – has is the Financial District and the Arts and Entertainment District. Factual correct, not a small town fantasy.

    Third, I am not in any way what you say. I know of what I speak. I have personally witnessed and been a victim of that organization’s leader’s nasty treatment of and false characterization of the project, it’s supporters, and Mr Fane.

    What we agree on – I hope – is that the exterior design is seriously lacking and that is where folks who what it to better sync with our great city’s downtown character need to expend their energy. Not a strategy of attack, disparage, and destroy.

    Like

  3. Craig says:

    At this point with the Fane Tower maybe we should aim for what the exterior of the building should look like, as it appears it will be built.

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    • Steve says:

      Absolutely. This great addition to downtown will be built. Embrace it.

      The energy expended should be a positive – not negative and hostile – approach to illustrate the exterior facade options that will maximize its syncing as much as possible with the rest of the over 300 foot downtown skyline.

      The hateful, confrontational, egocentric, and pompous approach of the neighborhood group leader has been rejected – and rightfully so.

      Like

      • Not necessarily destined to be built; various factors could intervene to stop it before or after start of construction. Not downtown – it is in the Jewelry District. Just because a bureaucrat has extended the boundary of downtown by municipal fiat does not make it downtown in the most important senses.

        The neighborhood group leader has led opposition to the Fane tower in the most perfectly diplomatic manner, and has not yet been rejected. She (if she is who I think you mean) has shown an almost superhuman restraint given the degree to which this proposal is an insult to the community. I myself could ramp up my disdain tenfold and not come near the point where I am overstating the project’s demerits. Shame on you, Steve, for your nasty and false characterization!

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      • Craig says:

        Steve, to be clear, I rather this building not be built,but if it is going to be erected, then I would prefer less height and a exterior that fits into Providence as we know it.

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        • Steve says:

          I understand and certainly agree with the exterior design issue but disagree with height concern. A 430 foot verses 520 foot difference between towers only 5 blocks apart in Downtown Providence is not significant, unusual, or disruptive to our skyline. It is overdue.

          In any event, the city can not change either and the I-195 District Commission is very highly unlikely to change its height. It is much more likely to look critically at the exterior design.

          Again, my point is, as I have expressed to David, that our energy be expended by illustrating alternative exterior design that more syncs with the other downtown towers.

          Like

  4. Steve says:

    Eric –

    For your benefit, I served in an executive position in city government for 25 years and I have been with a billion dollar corporation (not real estate), and have intimate knowledge of major condo development across the nation. So, we do look at this from different perspectives. I appreciate your expertise and perspective, but must respond to errors of fact.

    First, I did not cite that the site is 3/10th of a mile from Downtown…the Hope Point tower site IS DOWNTOWN. It is only 3/10th of a mile and 5 blocks from 3 existing major towers. Big difference than citing proximity to another district of the city (College Hill) that IS NOT downtown.

    Second, there will be no “gulf between it and downtown of low-rise buildings.” again, the Hope Point tower site IS DOWNTOWN. The four blocks between it and 20-35 story towers is punctuated by 10-15 story buildings; not low-rise structures.

    The tower will NOT be a “blank-faced podium”…it is planned for first floor retail/restaurant space.

    Third, the tower will NOT have any negative impact upon the proposed park. There is nothing that restricts any access, reserves any use to the tower residents, or otherwise restricts the enjoyment of all the citizens of Providence.

    The tower will NOT loom over 5-6 story buildings – the zoning allows up to 12 story buildings in that immediate area to the southwest of the site.

    Fourth, density WILL increase because it is NOT “blocks from the downtown”… Again, the Innovation District IS DOWNTOWN.

    Fifth, “We know through studies of urbanism that people walk streets that have life on them” is true. But, there are NOT “empty blocks between the tower site and “downtown”. Again, the tower site IS DOWNTOWN.

    There are or will be four restaurants, three night venues, three bars, three apartment buildings, and multiple retail shops between the tower and the next closest towers in the Financial District…also downtown.

    The tower is NOT “an island of privilege at the expense of everyone else.” What are you talking about? Fane paid for the lot and will pay for the tower. People who can afford to buy the condos pay for them! The “everyone else” will not pay for their mortgage, their taxes, their utilities, or their spending in the city. They earned the privilege to live there.

    This parcel is not reserved for public housing, it is for taxable development. The public has its city’s 304th park right on the river with full access — that “everyone else” paid for!!

    Sixth, Mr Fane did NOT “worked to subvert the common good, a consensus achieved by hard work and careful thinking.” He followed the process of applying for a variance in accordance with the law.

    The “…consensus achieved by hard work and careful thinking..” you cite was deeply flawed. Consensus does not equal wisdom. Why? Because they applied your definition of “downtown” being limited to the Financial District or the “historic center”. The fact is that IT IS NOT. The Innovation District is also in downtown.

    So, the “careful thinking” did not account for the city’s own definition of its downtown nor the three 25 story equivalent smokestacks south of Point Street. Seems to me that the crescendo should be the Financial District in the north, south to the smokestacks. That would have a crescendo of height ranging down from 450 feet to 250 feet as it moves south; treating the district as what it is – part of a major city downtown – not an urban suburb’s “downtown”.

    Then the variance for this tower would have been a mere 70 feet. The problem is not this tower in any way, it is the inappropriate zoning. Providence is not a little city and it’s downtown should grow up. As Paolino stated, perhaps opponents should move to one of the suburbs with nice little 5-8 story buildings in the city center. Major city planners should be major city thinkers.

    Let me conclude that based on what I can see in the isolated renderings does not please me. Yet in the broader view depicting most of the downtown skyline, it looks good. So, I agree that the facade design itself – NOT its height – must be held to account as to fitting as much as possible into our beautiful urban fabric.

    Personally, I preferred the original brick design, with modifications.

    Like

  5. Eric Daum says:

    This project pains me every time I see it. It is wrong on so many levels and the only argument that proponents can make is that it will provide jobs. How many and for how long? Too few and for the 2 years it will take to erect this monstrosity. Why do we have zoning if a greedy developer can petition for a gross variance?

    Like

    • Steve says:

      Actually, jobs is one of several valid arguments that were made.
      1) added jobs, 2) added density, 3) added population 4) added spending, 5) added economic activity and tax income, 6) expanded downtown skyline, and 7) correcting a ridiculously low zoning height in the entire Innovation District.

      Greedy developer? Who’s paying for it? Oh, that’s right – Fane.
      Hmmm…who and what grows this city? Another city bridge/park?

      I hope the City Council gets more variance requests for these parcels. This is downtown Providence; not downtown New Bedford.

      Quality exterior design is the ball we need to keep our eyes on.

      Like

      • Eric Daum says:

        1) A limited number of jobs for a limited period of time. 2) Increased density is good, but would be better closer to the historic Downtown core 3) Will population increase? Is there really demand for 40 some odd stories of luxury condos in Providence? Will these merely be investment real estate purchases for the absent rich as is happening in New York and Boston? 4) I’m not convinced that this will be the economic boon some forecast. 6) Would be better closer to the historic center of High rises, it will be an imbalanced skyline. 7) The zoning heights in the innovation district are entirely appropriate. There are numerous empty lots in the historic core which would be more appropriate for a high-rise. The I-195 corridor as a mid-rise neighborhood would modulate better between downtown and the jewelry district and the East Side.

        Greedy developer? Yes, leveraging a parcel that he knew had rational and well thought-out zoning and demanding that it be changed to suit his investment. It’s not his money. It’s the money of the banks from whom he will procure loans and the value will be inflated and he will take his share and walk away leaving a white elephant and debt in the hands of the banks. It’s the way it works. Some developers care about the places they do business. People like Fane only care about profit and don’t stick around to see the havoc they have wrought.

        The first photo that David posted above clearly shows how inappropriate a building of that scale is on that site. It will loom over lower Benefit street and be an eyesore that will forever change our perceptions of a unique and humanely-scaled city.

        Like

        • Steve says:

          Oh, boy. Right to the essence of the small town plague of the opposition’s perspective.

          1) NOT true – hundreds of onstruction jobs for years and jobs in the complex forever.
          2) It IS close to the “historic Downtown core”…it is a mere 3/10s of a mile from the Textron tower! It IS in the core!
          3) over 400 condos and apartments DOES result in a population increase. You or I do not determine demand – the developer does. And by the way, people from that ugly city 50 miles north ARE looking to move to PVD. And so will future Innovation District employees.
          4) You or I don’t have to be convinced of an economic boon – the state economic folks do
          5) We all know that a boon will not come from grass and trees and minor development.
          6) Closer to the historic center of high rises…will be an imbalanced skyline???!!! It is 5 city blocks away!! You can see the parcel from the steps of City Hall.
          What imbalance? 430 verses 530 feet? I have been to over 40 other major cities…this is balanced!
          This is Providence, not Pawtucket.
          7) “The zoning heights in the innovation district are entirely appropriate” – for an urban suburb of Providence— NOT Downtown Providence. There are numerous empty lots in in the Innovation District more than suitable…including this one. The I-195 corridor is a mid-rise neighborhood because of small town thinkers and small town zoning.

          Greedy developer – Making profit is not greed, it is how cities grow.
          Who makes major investments in cities? Pays taxes? Employs folks? Contributes to social events? Oh, that’s right, developers like Mr Fane.

          The zoning was NOT rational and well thought-out…for a downtown of a major city.
          As a Providence resident, it is embarrassing.

          He didn’t “demand” anything – it argued that it be changed to suit his investment. That’s how it works.

          It IS Mr Fane’s money. That is what loans are, money the loanee pays back. It is HIS risk. Opponents have a lot to say for what Fane’s motives are, what he will do, what he will let happen. None of which you or anyone else can legitimately speak to. Strange that he has no issues in the other cities HE INVESTED IN.

          People like Fane do care about profit – and should! it is HIS investment, not others.

          A 46 floor tower is not “havoc”…a Mayor that tanks a city’s fiscal heath to pander to the “trees and grass” and “huggers and cryers” crowd who create havoc. Oh, it is him and them that won’t stick around to be held accountable for the obstructionist bush league havoc they have wrought….wait 3 years.

          That photo clearly shows how appropriate another building of the scale – like the other towers downtown – is on that site. Benefit Street!!?? It is not downtown and is on the other side of the river…a completely bogus argument.

          An eyesore? That’s the type of scale major cities have! Yes, it will forever change our perceptions of this great city…bigger, taller, denser, a momentum builder, a developer and business and new resident confidence builder – – and still unique – – and long overdue.

          Like

          • Eric Daum says:

            Steve,
            I am an architect and I have been reflecting upon Providence’s growth and urban form for more than 40 years. You and I both look at that rendering and see different things. I see a mistake, you see opportunity. I am thinking about the form of the overall city. You cite that the site is 3/10th of a mile from Downtown as being close yet dismiss the proximity of Lower Benefit Street because it is equally close yet across a river. If and probably when the ProFane tower is built, there will be a gulf between it and downtown of low-rise buildings. Were the tower sited closer to the historic core and the master plan followed, the city’s form would rise in a logical and graceful way to a crescendo of height. Instead, we will have a lone tower of dubious architectural quality looming over a park and 5-6 story buildings. A tower of that height will have a negative impact upon the proposed park, which is supposed to be for the enjoyment of all the citizens of Providence and not just the wealthy few who will buy pied-a-terres.
            It won’t be increasing density because it will be blocks for the downtown. We know through studies of urbanism that people walk streets that have life on them. Fane’s plans for a blank-faced podium and the empty blocks between his development and downtown are not creating a cityscape. He’s creating an island of privilege at the expense of everyone else.

            As for your complaints about the zoning as it was written, it was a a rational, well-researched solution which aligns with the latest thinking about what makes a livable pedestrian oriented city. Yes ,a developer deserves to make a profit. but i know how they think and how they operate. There is no altruism involved, it’s all about the money, and nothing more. Fane purchased a site knowing full well what the limitations were and he worked to subvert the common good, a consensus achieved by hard work and careful thinking. The short term gain will be the jobs you cite, but the long term damage will be still be an ugly building in the wrong place.

            Like

          • Craig says:

            The Fane tower as seen in its latest form is ugly! How much time did this architectural firm spend in Providence? Did they talk to the local people who work and live in that area? Did they walk the Hill or did they just drive through? Architects have ego’s, some have superego’s, this building isn’t about Providence, Fane or the East Side, its a monument to who ever designed it.

            Like

  6. Eric Daum says:

    This project pains me every time I see it. It is wrong on so many levels and the only argument that proponents can make is that it will provide jobs. How many and for how long? Too few and for the 2 years it will take to erect this monstrosity. Why do we have zoning if a greedy developer can petition for a gross variance?

    Like

  7. Steve says:

    Ha!

    What makes you say “it isn’t a done deal yet”? That stupid lawsuit..not a chance of success.
    Of course, economic considerations are always in play for any developer.

    The design approval is a key step, after that it is somewhat routine. I submit that what he thinks Providence is attracted to is not very accurate – but he will take away input from the hearing and be flexible on design changes.

    Point: My reference to those cities was that they are not comparable to Providence in any manner.

    Like

    • And that’s how it should remain. But in fact we are getting closer and closer all the time. They were once as beautiful as Providence, long ago. Today, they are just a bit ahead of us on the downward curve.

      Like

  8. Craig Coonrod says:

    Right across the river from where the proposed Fane Tower might be built, sits the the Rhode Island of Design. You could throw a rock and hit one of one of RISD’S building, ok maybe not a rock, but a Red Ryder BB gun might do the trick. What is one of of the most famous art schools in the United States, if not the world doing in this fight? What is their stand or do they even have a stand?

    Like

    • Craig,
      RISD cares not for the urban fabric. The dorm under construction, the addition to Providence Washington, the addition to the Illustration Studies building, and the Chase center of the Museum all confirm that.

      Like

      • Craig Conrod says:

        Peter, you’re so correct, I keep thinking that someday RISD will take their rightful place in the community and use their standing to change the direction that Providence is going through. It might be too late for the Hill and downtown Providence, but the Blackstone area still has a chance. Thanks for reminding me about RISD and Brown.

        Like

  9. LEON KRIER says:

    ON HIGH UTILITARIAN BUILDINGS

    A METROPOLITAN CITY NETWORK DESIGNED FOR A BUILDING FABRIC OF TWO/ THREE STOREYS TRADITIONAL BUILDING HEIGHTS CANNOT HOST A LARGE AMOUNT OF UTILITARIAN SKYSCRAPERS WITHOUT CAUSING IRREPARABLE DAMAGE TO ITS LONG TERM VIABILITY.

    LEON KRIER for LONDON SKYLINE CAMPAIGN

    Like

  10. Steve says:

    Your call that “…protecting Providence’s beauty is the best reason to oppose the Fane tower…” is obsolete. The Hope Point tower will be built.

    What is of value is to advocate for an exterior design that has minimum adverse impact on streetscape (the 6 floor podium) and the skyline. And I do believe that the Fane Organization wants the structure to fit in as best as they can agree to.

    As to Worcester and Hartford, no one cares about them or what they look like.They are neither tourist destinations nor have any substantial urban architectural value. Providence and Boston are the only two major cities in New England and both are worthy of efforts to resist the ugly designs we see in so many other major cities.

    Like

    • Though it is more likely to be approved than not, and more likely to be built than not (though this is more arguable), I don’t think that the Fane tower is a done deal yet, Steve, and it is never time to give up on calling for beauty. What in blazes gives you the idea that Fane wants to blend into our historical character, which he has called “cutesy”? You say that nobody cares what Hartford or Worcester look like? Well, congratulations! That’s exactly the point!

      Like

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