Not as sexy but just as bad

Former design of Hope Point (Fane) tower, left. New design of toweer, right. (Fane)

Developer Jason Fane has cut costs by removing the pizzazz from his proposed tower design. Without the sinuous curves, it looks less ridiculous but would not fit into the Jewelry District any better, if built, than before its redesign – its third redesign. It has progressed from three bland towers in 2016 to one in 2018, and then from bland to sexy – as if architecture could aspire to ape Marilyn Monroe.

No, it cannot be done.

Silly, not sexy.

Even if it could be done, it would still stick out like a sore thumb.

Arguably (as I actually argued in a 2018 post), that design was a copycat. Fane tower architects IBI Group, of Toronto, copied an even more curvaceous design, also in Toronto, for a pair of buildings called the Absolute Towers, by MAD Architects. The Fane tower may indeed be less curvaceous than Absolute Towers, but it one ups MAD’s towers, in that the latter seem designed to portray two towers in a state of precoital arousal, whereas the Fane tower seems to portray two towers amid coitus itself. (Really? Click to see.)

Even without the histrionics, this is not exactly what is wanted for a historic city like Providence. And the new design is still way too tall – in spite of a Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling in 2020, by any logic it still does not obey the city’s comprehensive plan (but who cares about logic these days). The building violates the plan’s 100-foot height mandate by an astronomical 500 percent! Most public opponents regretted its height, but its unsympathetic design was widely considered just as obnoxious, however sexy.

The new design, described in a article, basically takes the boring side of the building and carries it all the way around, replacing the sexy façade in which Fane took so much pride, so much so that he even dared to mock the city’s historic character as “cutesy.” Fane has also added residential floors by subtracting a couple of parking floors in the base of the tower. The old design’s moderne-style, stripped fenestration has been jettisoned in favor of what appear to be concrete slabs separating the floors. Its balconies have been substantially reduced in number and size.

The Fane team issued a press release:

After over a year of diligent redesign, the Fane Organization has made changes to The Fane Tower façade design and submitted to the I-195 Commission a package of revised conceptual design drawings for Design Review. The revised exterior concept shows smooth harmonious curvilinear lines and rounded corners that are unmatched in Providence. Recognizing local climate, the number and size of balconies has been reduced.

Note that the building is apparently now called “The Fane Tower.” I thought that was just my reporter’s shorthand. Whatever happened to the so-called “Hope Point Tower”?

None of these changes, if they reduce costs as desired, are to be desired. Better a ridiculous building that resides on a blueprint gathering dust on a shelf than a practical building that is affordable to the developer and actually rises up to poke out our eye. We have already added enough ugly to the heritage of Providence.

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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19 Responses to Not as sexy but just as bad

  1. Christopher Bleyer says:

    I lived in Providence’s sister city, Florence, Italy for nine months, and found that the
    Florentines live full, productive, and happy lives even though they have no skyscrapers in their city. Because they have such beautiful architecture to behold
    by the greats like Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Alberti , they have no need or
    desire for architecture designed to be gawked at. Not only are the Florentines great
    lovers of beauty, they also have the “coglioni” to send any architects or developers,
    with their hair brained schemes, packing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steve says:

      No American city, including Providence, is remotely in the same architectural, historic, or artistic class as Florence. Bad comparison.


      • Christopher’s comment bests yours, Steve. There is nothing special about skyscrapers, any city that has them in abundance, and especially any recent skyscrapers, has already ceded quality and beauty to cities that don’t. As for the greater class of Florence over Providence, you are correct, but I’m sure Christopher would not disagree. He knows that most Americans and most citizens of Providence have never been to Florence, so that the beauty of Providence over that of most U.S. cities may be as significant for its citizens as the beauty of Florence for citizens of the world (so-called).


  2. Christopher Bleyer says:

    We should have learned from September 11th how fragile these skyscrapers truly are. As
    Landmarks they are incredibly tempting to terrorists. With all these incredible advances
    In technology there will come a time when destroying these buildings will be cheap and
    Easy. Cities will be held hostage. Knowing what we know it would be risky for any city
    To allow these arrogant buildings to be built., or for any insurance company to cover
    Them. The ancients were so brilliant, they built out of stone.


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  4. Eric Daum says:

    It’s still the wrong building in the wrong place. The 195 master plan should be respected. I agree more towers would be a good thing, but closer to the historic core of downtown, not in a location that will have it looming over surrounding low-rise buildings and casting shadows on South Main Street and lower Benefit Street. I wish this offensive greed-driven disrespectful project would just die.


    • Steve says:

      The problem is not it’s location – it is in downtown – but the fact the the height limited all around it are ridiculously low. The entire area along the Dyer Street corridor should be in the 200-400 foot range (with variances of up to 100 feet).

      I remind everyone that this is the downtown area of Providence – not some suburban city. Comparisons should be with Boston, not Portsmouth.


      • Steve, Eric is right. The Fane tower is wrong for Providence. Providence is not New York or Boston, and building ill-conceived, overtall buildings won’t make it so. It is not Portsmouth, and opposing Fane tower does not mean any such thing. Providence should not get too big for its britches. It should know itself. Its leadership doesn’t know the city, as many new buildings, including this one, prove. At least citizens who know it better than they do should tty to resist their effort to turn it into something it is not. It is a beautiful historic city, and should act that way. Forcing the issue by raising height limits is putting the cart before the horse.

        And the Jewelry District is not downtown, even if the Planning Department says so. Nor is the Innovation District.


        • Steve says:

          Could not disagree more.

          First, Boston is nowhere near in the class of New York in any way. It is much closer to Providence’s class.

          Second, why would Providence want to be either? It is not striving to be nor is it trying to be “bigger than its britches”. It is the only New England city that can compete, at least marginally, with Boston. And it should take advantage of that city’s weaknesses.

          Third, all three cities are historic. Providence will always be the most beautiful because of a variety of factors including the protection it affords the best of its architecture.

          Finally, the Jewelry (now Innovation) District certainly is one of the districts of downtown; along with the Arts & Entertainment District, Convention District, Capital Center District, and Financial District. That is the fact; not an opinion or feeling.

          My entire position here is that the city needs to grow up – both emotionally and physically.


  5. If you don’t care about culture and context, it is perfect.
    If you don’t care about out of date irrelevant kitsch aesthetics, it is perfect.
    If you want Providence to become the same as every other new trashy developed city, it is perfect.
    If you don’t care about genius loci, the soul of Providence, it is perfect!


    • Anonymous says:

      “Culture and context”. A residential tower in a heavily residential downtown hardly conflicts with either. The problem is the ridiculously low maximum heights around it.

      “Out of date…aesthetics”. Certainly not ugly, but clearly not fitting with a 1890-1930 facade. But, not a horror show.

      “Providence to become the same…trashy”. That is an overreach of epic proportions. Providence will not become anything close to that by one iota by this structure.

      “the soul of Providence”. Again, one structure does not define the soul of a big city. As we speak, new structures are being approved and built that protect the overall city’s great architecture.

      No one should be opposed to a major boost in residential development in downtown. This is not a toxic waste disposal facility, a tower in Wayland Square, a construction company rock and dirt site. It will add life, taxes, vibrancy, and impressive skyline.


  6. LazyReader says:

    Downtowns are getting more and more empty and unpopular, it’s not surprising because they’re getting more overcrowded and congested.

    Frank Lloyd Wright, who died in 1959 but understood 21st-century cities better than most urban planners today, realized that downtowns were obsolete 100 years ago. “In the days of electrical transmission, the automobile and the telephone,” he wrote in 1922, a dense downtown “becomes needless congestion–it is a curse.”


    • Steve says:

      The population of the districts of downtown Providence – including Arts & Entertainment, Convention, Financial, and Jewelry (Innovation) – are increasing. Hundreds of new apartments and condos have been built and and hundreds more planned.

      Downtown is increasing in its very vibrant nature.


  7. LazyReader says:

    Cut height down, give a facade.


    • Steve says:

      Why? A city of Providence’s size, density, population and role (core and largest city of New England’s second largest metro) should have very tall buildings. This is downtown Providence – not Portsmouth or Pawtucket.


  8. Steve says:

    Fully disagree.

    First, any district of Downtown should have towers in the 400-550 range; not less. Hopefully, more come. Then, it will nit “stick out”.

    Second, this design is an improvement as it reduces the platform height and smooths the tower overall.

    I tire of the small town attitude that plagues thus great city. I do not tire of efforts to stop the gross lack of beauty in other cities. Better more towers – with design that is not grossly obscene- than less.


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