Going for the ugly at RIPTA

Proposed new transit center at Doorance and Dyer streets. (RIPTA)

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has finally got with the program, or so it seems. It has apparently ditched its relatively attractive new transit hub on Dorrance Street for a plug-ugly center that checks all the boxes for what passes for the latest in contemporary architecture. Cheesy materials and even cheesier factory generated design. Look at how thin the exterior walls are. Got it.

Good work, guys! This may only be a computer generated prototype put out by RIPTA to illustrate its latest request for proposal (RFP), but the mere fact that the agency has decided to replace its more or less traditional building proposal with something like the above shows that it has bought fully into the ugly club.

My skepticism of RIPTA’s reasons for relocating its bus hub out of Kennedy Plaza remains. My doubts have been moderated until now by the enticement of a relatively attractive proposal. I still do not believe that the buses need more room to expand, because, first, there is less room to expand at the proposed center on Dorrance Street than on Kennedy Plaza. KP already has a building (and quite attractive) where the public can wait for buses or buy bus tickets. And there is no compelling reason for moving out of Kennedy Plaza in the first place. Moreover, Rhode Island is not exempt from the national trend, post-covid, of working from home rather than the office. RIPTA may need to contract rather than to expand.

RIPTA’s decision to embrace a modernist design should encourage bus riders to double down on their opposition to the proposed new hub on Dorrance. It is nothing but a way to spread around the buckets of federal covid relief funds – essentially, a scam to rob the public of needed post-pandemic services in order to give more money to designers, developers, city and state officials, public art commisars and private-sector busybodies who don’t need it.

RIPTA’s announcement of the RFP last week states that it “invites qualified and experienced entities from the private sector to submit proposals to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the Transit Center through a progressive joint development project delivery model.”

What in blazes is a “progressive joint development project delivery model”? It probably means that the agency will place such dubious goals as equity and inclusion ahead of quality and utility (not to mention beauty). Whatever it is, it sounds like a waste of public funds and a further dilution of quality in public service – in short, same old same old.

Below is the original drawing of the proposed Dorrance Street hub. It is not perfect but is much better than the newly released design and, for that matter, the usual designs for buildings that have been proposed to serve the public in recent decades, in Providence and most other places. No architect has been identified for either design, though the original design has all the earmarks of illustrations by the firm Union Studio, which is located downtown.

Illustration of the original proposal for a new transit hub on Dorrance Street. (RIPTA)

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, 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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11 Responses to Going for the ugly at RIPTA

  1. barry says:

    thanks David for calling attention to this ugly design. RIPTA promises much public input into the project if it moves forward, so keep watching!
    You are right to be skeptical of moving buses out of KP, it is mostly because well-connected Joe Paolino and associates feel the presence of bus riders, disproportionately poor and people of color, hurt his property value alongside the Plaza. Building in a new location will be very expensive, and the location will not be as convenient as KP is nearer to most destinations (think hotels, banks, post office, City Hall, URI, rr station, library…)
    That said, KP has a seedy reputation, and its not pleasant after dark the way it is spread out. It is possible a new transit center, if done right, will better serve riders and attract more of them – very desirable to help address climate change, reduce congestion, accidents, pollution, sprawl, and keep more of our energy dollars in the state


    • Steve says:

      I very much agree that the Dorrance Street Transit Center is an excellent idea and that KP is an unbecoming. What stuns me is the free fall from a very fitting design to a cheap box.


  2. Christopher Bleyer says:

    I have heard all the prophecies of artificial intelligence taking over the planet, so when you mentioned that this might be a computer generated prototype, David, I asked myself “could a robot with a graphic design program ,rather than an architecture program, have designed this building?”I have noticed a lot of new buildings lately that look like they were designed with this graphic design program. Were they designed by robots as well? How would we really know? Am I too old to learn computer hacking? Should I try to get a law passed that buildings must be designed by humans? Would it even help?


    • I really don’t know the designer or what program he or she may have used. I did not mean to suggest that it may have been AI. All I’m sure of is the applicability of the old adage, Garbage in, garbage out.


  3. LazyReader says:

    Light rail was rendered obsolete 94 years ago when Twin Coach introduced the model 100 bus, the first bus that cost less to operate, per seat-mile, than a streetcar (which is what light rail really is). Within 10 years, 500 American cities converted their streetcar lines to buses without any prodding from General Motors. (The GM streetcar conspiracy was really about GM taking market share away from Twin Coach, not about replacing streetcars.)A big-box transit system on rails simply doesn’t work in an urban area where jobs are spread throughout the area.

    For buses running thru towns in Rhode island…instance Is clear. Bus stations need not be big transit hubs. Onlybrrquire storage for buses.
    There’s another nice architecture building design that houses long vehicles….fire houses.


    • Steve says:

      “ For buses running thru towns in Rhode island…instance Is clear. Bus stations need not be big transit hubs.”

      For the towns, yes. The transit center in Downtown is for Providence – a city of 200,000 and the core of a 1.6 million person metro area. It dense, busy, and crowded. Very much appropriate.


      • LazyReader says:

        1: Providence has population 140,000.
        2: it’s downtown has average of 77,000 jobs that’s based on census. Employment records going back to 2013
        Only knowing how pandemic and redistribution of jobs since….probably cut that significantly.

        3: having a single transit hub creates crashes…not physical crashes but system crashes resulting in bottlenecks that lead to lost time and congestion. By contrast cyclic bus networks can move employees and people without central distribution models. By having multiple small buildings on adjacent sides passenger distribution does not bottleneck.

        In 2012, the state opened new commuter rail stations and started service between Wickford Junction and Providence, with trains going on to Boston, at a cost of $50 million (half of which came from the federal New Starts program).train ridership was well below projections, which the state partly blamed on the lack of that new development. As a result, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which operates the trains, billed Rhode Island millions of dollars to account for the difference between collected fares and the costs of running the trains.
        Think of free fares as an experiment. It tells you how many people value service at zero vs. how many value it at, in this case, $3.50. Those who ride when it’s free but not when there is a nominal fare, value the service at zero…worthless.

        Now think about this. All the people who don’t ride transit, even when it’s free, place a value of less than zero. The expression, “You couldn’t pay me enough….” comes to mind.

        Time and again, transit agencies are offering a costly service to a public that doesn’t want it, even when it’s free! If you’re a sane business person, you stop losing money producing something you can’t even give away. But, if you’re a transit business person, you simply apply for more government subsidies


        • Steve says:

          You have zero idea of what you are talking about.

          1. The 2020 population is 191,000 plus an estimated 12,000 illegal aliens. More than 10,000/sq mile live in the city, the population is increasing, and has 68,000 households (more than the population of all but 2 cities in the entire state!). Hundreds of new housing units are being built and more in the pipeline and the Boston-Providence migration is 4-1 in Providence’s favor.

          The rest of your piece is equally faulty.

          My facts – based on real official data – stand.


  4. Steve says:

    Wow! What an ugly, embarrassing rendering. A true free fall from the original Al design. Very disappointing.

    As to RIPTA’s workload, remember it is really a Providence system with little activity outside of the inner core of the Providence Metro.

    While I fully support the transit center project, this is a disgrace…it belongs in Kansas City or Pittsburgh (et al); but definitely not Providence.


    • I’m glad you agree, Steve. As to the workload, RIPTA serves the entire state, or at least presumes to do so. How many riders use its service I don’t know, but it probably fell during the pandemic, and may not revive. RIPTA should keep its ambitions in check.


      • Steve says:

        Out of the 57 RIPTA routes all but 5 run to or though Providence’s Kennedy Plaza. With service at more than 90% to or internal to it, it is a certainly a Providence system. RI is simply part of its metro area. In reality, it should be called the PPTA.

        Kennedy Plaza is not designed for 50 bus routes serving over 14 million riders. Ridership is over 14 million (2021) and rising; second only to Boston in New England. A transit center in downtown Providence isn’t an ambition, it’s an absolute need.

        What is at issue is this horrid design free fall.


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