See “Divine Providence”

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On Sunday, Aug. 11 at 2:30 p.m., in the elegant RISD Auditorium (1940), the Rhode Island International Film Festival will feature Divine Providence: The Rebirth of an American City. Tickets may be reserved at this link for $10. How it qualifies as international may be open to question, but the documentary was in the works for at least four years, and I am glad its director, Salvatore Mancini, has finished the job. He says that it

focuses on the history and transformation of downtown Providence. The film traces Providence’s rise to greatness, defined by a handful of iconic architectural gems, examines the reasons for its decline, and then looks closely at the complex workings behind its triumphant rebirth. The film celebrates this special moment in Providence’s history, and the individuals who made it possible.

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Salvatore Mancini (NewWorks RI)

I saw it a few weeks ago at a far less elegant location: Brown University’s List Art Center, completed in 1971 as designed by the American Nazi architect Philip Johnson. Though I would quibble with a couple points made during its 57 minutes, and will do so after I see it again, I do not hesitate to proclaim the film’s overall excellence. The photography is lovely, the pacing is exquisite, and, along with these many shots and clips, the description of several featured buildings by my fellow architecture critic Will Morgan will make you want to see the buildings in person. This is a must-see, especially for newcomers to Providence.

Of the waterfront auditorium at the Rhode Island School of Design, the 1986 citywide survey of historic architecture by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission states:

Philip D. Creer, architect. A 5-story, steel-frame, brick-and-stone-clad structure in a modernized Georgian Revival mode. Its interior is a particularly fine example of the Moderne of the 1930s. The Georgian-cum-Moderne exterior was designed to harmonize with the Colonial and Federal buildings nearby and represents a continuation of the school’s [now discontinued] contextual architecture built beginning with the College Building at 2 College Street. Unfortunately, however, a number of architecturally interesting buildings were demolished to make way for this building, including John Holden Greene’s Granite Block of 1823.

One might quibble with this last judgment, since the demolished buildings were replaced, arguably, by something as good or even better. That has not been the case with more recent RISD buildings, especially the new wing of the RISD Art Museum, which is inferior to the parking lot upon which it was erected. Such history and such argumentation are what make Mancini’s documentary so fascinating, whether you agree with its judgments or not.

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Rhode Island School of Design Auditorium on Providence River’s east bank. (Wikimedia)

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,, 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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9 Responses to See “Divine Providence”

  1. Gerry Vann says:

    I’ve just found out about DIVINE PROVIDENCE: THE REBIRTH OF AN AMERICAN CITY, a film directed by Salvatore Mancini. I know there’s a showing on 11/04/19 at District Hall but my work schedule will not allow for attendance. Will there be any other public showing, a on another medium, or on-line availability?


  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, David


  3. Michael Tyrrell says:

    Looking forward to seeing this, David!… Thanks for the heads up.


  4. “new wing of the RISD Art Museum, which is inferior to the parking lot upon which it was erected.” Please tell us what you REALLY think, David!
    See you on Sunday!


    • Yes, well you know, Peter, that the Moneo Monstrosity filled that parking lot, but that the parking lot was also lined on three sides by the walls of other buildings the views of which facades were lost. So the new building is inferior to the parking lot when the loss of those nearby facades is included. But even if you leave them out, it is still inferior to the broken cement and dirt of the surface of the parking lot.

      By the way, to Steve, Ray, Ed and especially Kenneth below, many thanks for your kind words and sentiments. I enjoyed the film and I’m sure you will too. But I will have more to say about it.


  5. Steve says:



  6. Ray Rickman says:

    THANK YOU!!!!


  7. Ed Iannuccilli says:

    Thanks for letting us know


  8. Kenneth Proudfoot says:

    Thanks, David, for your continuing insightful articles.


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