Fane tower & Hudson Yards

Hudson-Yards_Aerial.jpeg

View looking north of Hudson Yards from the Hudson River. (The Architect’s Newspaper)

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.)

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. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others 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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10 Responses to Fane tower & Hudson Yards

  1. Steve says:

    Well, some of your arguments are factually incorrect, some are arguable perspective.
    1) Fact – that district always has been downtown. Hence the review by the Downtown Design Review Committee. That is a red herring argument.
    2) Perspective – I surely do, but I am not willing to foresake great developments that grow PVD up and up again. I totally disagree with and am sick of the old “too tall” cry. It is not too anything.
    I’d rather propose new designs that fit our architecture as much as possible.
    3) Fact – Your point was most people are in opposition, and the fact is the opposition is a small number – perhaps 1% of residents; as I cited. Again, this is not an election, it is a decision(s).
    4) Perspective – Surely I agree with you regarding the Mayor, but not overall.
    5) Fact and Perspective – Again, the DDRC cannot “kill” the project. Your best impact is pushing for beautiful exterior design changes; not the old failed mantra to oppose the project itself.

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    • 1. Jewelry District was not part of downtown before it was severed by 195; it was an industrial district, primarily jewelry manufacturing. Its redesignation as part of downtown in recent years may change that fact legally, but not in terms of urban morphology.
      2. I too am not against tall buildings, but I am against them when they degrade the city’s historical character.
      3. Neither of us knows how many people are in opposition or support, but it has been mostly opponents who have expressed opposition, mainly by attending city meetings. If the organizations that are in opposition may be counted according to their membership, the number of opponents is even greater. Supporters have attended as well, but my educated guess is that almost all of them are construction workers or union employees, most of both categories living in the suburbs. Where do you live?
      4. Both city and state are untrustworthy, filled with bureaucrats who don’t know or care anything about the city’s character. Gone are the days when state officials undertook ambitious projects such as river relocation and 195 relocation and handled them with efficiency and panache. Now they’re mostly time servers.
      5. Fane has absolutely zero will or desire to transform his tower into one that fits into the city’s character. The only reason to push for aesthetic change in the project is to try to keep the door open to kill the tower somehow, and meanwhile to educate the city’s design community in the usefulness of beauty.

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      • Steve says:

        OK…
        1) The old Jewerly District has always been part of Downtown…one of 4 districts. One industrial (as you state), one financial, one arts and entertainment, and one transportation (now “capital center”). Downtown’s southern border is Henderson Street (just south of Route 195). What you are invoking is the Downtown Historic District….a small part of downtown.
        2) Agree and disagree – The height is well within the range. The tower will help fill in the vacant Innovation District parcels to the west, extend the central downtown skyline south by a mere 5 blocks, and, again, can be designed accordingly.
        3) Again, we only know what we know. But frankly, it is irrelevant. As to me – Wayland.
        4) Mainly agree. The tone and tenor of discourse forces the best away from govt service.

        I appeal to you to bring forth constructive ideas to make the tower as best as it can be; not seek to destroy it. You may be surprised at the developer’s reaction to support with constructive criticism.

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  2. olin Thompson says:

    David, may we have permission to use this article in our newsletter fighting Fane?
    It would go to our 900 person mailing list.

    ==================

    “OT”
    Olin Thompson
    ot@olinthompson.com
    401-225-1408

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  3. GM says:

    I’m a supporter of the project. I think Steve is more correct and offers more evidence, and I’m not related at all to construction (or design).

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    • GM – Steve certainly does know his stuff and offers cogent replies to my posts on this topic. We simply disagree whether Providence does better by accepting that it is a mid-sized city and trying to be the best at what it already does well, or that it should try to be the biggest city it can be, even at the expense of what makes it a great mid-sized city.

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  4. Steve says:

    Oh, boy. David.

    First, the Hope Point tower will not be “sticking out like a sore thumb…”
    How many times will opponents act like it is in Wayland Square. As you write, it is in the “Jewerly. District” – which IS downtown, 5 blocks from the next tallest tower.

    Second, it – the tower – has not “caused headache and heartache in this city”. Vocal and aggressive opponents have both caused it and of course suffered it as the project moves forward.
    I and thousands of others have suffered the pain you cite seeing the emotional obstruction placed in front of a major development we see as great for our city.

    Third, your statement that “most citizens of Providence are against it” is not accurate. Hundreds oppose it or sure, but there is absolutely no evidence that 100,000 or more do. In fact, there is evidence that thousands support it. Regardless, it is not an elective process, it is a regulatory one.

    Fourth, the DDRC has no final authority over the design, that rests with the I-195 District Commission. I assure you that the legislature will act to give full authority over all parcels in the district to the commission if pushed.

    Fifth, it most surely will be built. So, again, I urge those with concern over its facade design (like me) proceed with that assumption and use the occasion to make constructive suggestions – not destructive attacks intended to destroy – as to improve the final product.

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    • Steve:
      1. Will stick out like SORE thumb. Not downtown, even if bureaucrat says so.
      2. You don’t understand what makes Providence a great city, and why Fane would profane it.
      3. Most supporters are construction workers living outside of Providence.
      4. Sad, to be sure. Neither the city nor the state are trustworthy.
      5. The only answer is to kill the project; no way its design will much improve.

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      • Frankie says:

        Funny, the Providence Journal has described the proposed state archives building as being “downtown”, even though it’s on the fringes of downcity. So why shouldn’t we consider Hope Tower to be downtown?

        Like

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