A relic of dated 2000s thinking, nearly devoid of urban design, it declines to blend into the city grid.
The Fane tower, right? That building proposed for the Jewelry District near downtown Providence?
No. In fact, it’s the Hudson Yards development in Midtown Manhattan, on an old rail yard west of Penn Station. “Hudson Yards is Manhattan’s Biggest, Newest, Slickest Gated Community” is by New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman. He is a much better and more comprehensive writer on architecture than his most recent predecessors, Nicolai Ouroussoff and Herbert Muschamp, who mainly saw their jobs as drooling over the latest blotches of God’s wrath on architecture committed by the world’s shiniest starchitects. Kimmelman is less colorful but more insightful.
Still, it’s almost obscene for Kimmelman to tut-tut Hudson Yards for not blending into the Manhattan grid. Although swathed in apparent care for the more nuanced aspects of the role architecture should play in cities, he still almost always gives a pass to the latest new thingamabub, or anything by architects who would shrink in horror at the idea of fitting in. Here he continues with yet more criticism of Hudson Yards that could be equally applied to almost all modern architecture, but almost never is.
And while those apartment buildings look to be less enormous than the supertalls that have gone up so far, stepping down toward the river, the whole site lacks any semblance of human scale. With its focus on the buildings’ shiny envelopes, on the monotony of reflective blue glass and the sheen of polished wood, brass, leather, marble and stone, Hudson Yards glorifies a kind of surface spectacle – as if the peak ambitions of city life were consuming luxury goods and enjoying a smooth, seductive, mindless materialism. … The triumph of this view is a consequence of government’s dwindling capacity to plan, build or repair anything significant itself. City Hall … demonstrates no grasp of urban design[.]
On a much smaller scale, Kimmelman’s words apply equally well to the Fane tower. If built it will be Providence’s tallest building, sticking out like a sore thumb and flawed in almost every other way, too. It has caused headache and heartache in this city – and that’s before its construction. Its developer, Jason Fane, has blown through every obstacle so far, though most citizens of Providence are against it, and most people assume it will be built. That is the most likely eventuality, but I think it can still be stopped.
Monday, April 8, is the next meeting of the Downtown Design Review Committee, the latest panel to clench this hot potato in its fist. The meeting will include the first public hearing to directly address the tower’s design, so please show up prepared to speak truth to power. Each person who opposes a building like this has more design smarts in his or her gut’s subconscious intuition than Kimmelman, Ourrousoff and Herbert Muschamp all rolled into one. So if you all show up, the design reviewers might just end up doing the right thing.
(By the way, Kimmelman’s article is one of those occasional pieces graced by interactive art that only the wealthiest newspapers can afford. It’s worth a look, and a read.)