Block Fane tower Monday

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Proposed Hope Point Tower, left. (turnto10.com)

Hope Point Tower should be called Hope Punt Tower. When it comes to hope for the livability of Providence, it punts.

The tower’s design goes for its second session before the Downtown Design Review Committee on Monday at 4:45 p.m., this time with a public hearing. Developer Jason Fane is expected to seek four waivers from the DDRC, most importantly exempting the project from zoning mandates that “building height and massing shall relate to adjacent structures.” The committee should deny that and the other three waivers.

Ted Sanderson, for 33 years the director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, has written a letter to DDRC members opposing the Fane proposal. He begins:

Downtown Design Review should ensure that the proposed Hope Point Tower is compatible with the existing historic building fabric and the historic character of downtown (Zoning section 600) and that this new construction complements the historic character and architectural integrity of existing structures (660).

The tower’s rejection of zoning’s protection of Providence’s historical character is the main reason to oppose it. Sanderson goes on to explain that the purpose of relocating Route 195 in the first place was to reknit the streets between downtown and the Jewelry District that were cut by the highway in the late 1950s. “[R]eplacing the highway with intrusive and incompatible new development,” writes Sanderson, “perpetuates the original highway damage in a new form and is no improvement for our city.”

That argument should be familiar to readers of this blog.

Broadly speaking, the quality of life here in Providence is high because the city retains so much of its historical character. Most of the city was built before architectural and planning practices in the 1950s shifted aesthetic priorities away from beauty and toward utility. These goals are not mutually exclusive but are treated as if they were. Unlike most other cities, Providence did not demolish most of its historic buildings to make way for “progress,” and that’s why it has so much character and heritage to protect.

The late architect and planner Bill Warner understood this. He was the visionary who led the design teams for the River Relocation Project of the 1990s and the more recent Route 195 Relocation Project, both of which used traditional design to encourage developers to embrace project designs that would strengthen Providence’s historical character. But most developers have resisted and, with high-fives from local design fashionistas, continue to foist unpleasant buildings on Providence. The result is that the city has been sacrificing its beautiful historic character for decades.

At some point the city will reach a point of no return, and will lose its beauty – one of its rare advantages in economic competition with other mid-sized cities. Most new buildings eat away at beauty little by little. Not the Fane tower. Tweaking it won’t help. Blocking it is our last opportunity to turn the tide and save Providence’s historical character, which is useful, beautiful, and vital to our quality of life.

[DDRC meeting begins at 4:45 on Monday, April 8, at 444 Westminster Street, in downtown Providence. Get there early to sign up to speak.]

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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2 Responses to Block Fane tower Monday

  1. The people’s voice must be loud and strong – you’re right in that no matter of tweaking can save this ugly thing. TY for sharing – to all your readers, David’ columns can be found on a regular basis in http://www.RINewsToday.com – and we thank him for that.

    Like

  2. Steve says:

    Again, the DDRC has no authority to block this project…they can only advise the 195 District Commission on its design, which fully supports it.

    Like

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