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Goofy new Roger Williams Park “gateway” rejects heritage, by design

by David Brussat, contributing writer, Architecture Here and There

Leafing through the November issue of Providence Monthly, I was dismayed to stumble across a short piece, “Gateway to Change,” by Elyse Major, illustrating a gaudy new portal and visitors center planned for the Broad Street entrance to the city’s lovely Roger Williams Park.

Thankfully, the idea is not to displace the current Broad Street entrance or its elegant Gilded Age set of wrought-iron gates matching those at Elmwood Avenue’s primary park entrance. So it’s really not a new entrance at all (at least not for cars) but a new welcome center with a plaza near the existing entrance. You go in on foot beneath a ridiculous “gateway” of 40 thin, parallel trapezoids of bright coloration – a huge xylophone that plucks its palette, or so it is alleged, from the ethnic Latino shopfronts of Broad Street.

The connection is amplified by Cory Lavigne, of INFORM Studio (a woman-owned firm based in Detroit and Chicago):

Borrowing from the diverse cultural vibrancy of the city, color represents the people of Providence. It symbolizes the heritage portrayed through a collection of restaurants, businesses, and homes in the surrounding neighborhoods. It represents families, students, and children; future leaders of Providence. Color stimulates and captivates, drawing residents and visitors alike to the grounds while increasing patronage to local businesses along Broad Street.

Well, no it doesn’t. Maybe it “represents” children, but it infantilizes the city and its citizens. “Symbolizes the heritage”? Rather, it rejects the heritage, and was probably designed to do so. That’s where our culture is headed. Five firms competed for this job, and all but one decided against submitting an entry that sought to fit into either the park or the neighborhood, or any facet thereof.

All but the Union Studio entry, whose visitors center design actually featured the vague suggestion that it was a sort of a building. Who would want anything to do with that? Clearly not goofy enough! So its entry wasn’t chosen. But at least Union Studio is a local firm. For a city that prides itself on being “the creative capital,” Providence seems to have a hard time finding local talent for its building projects.

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic is that cities can no longer afford to throw their citizens’ money at bad ideas that are not needed, like the Roger Williams Park Gateway and Visitors Center. The city’s planning department may already have selected this peacock waste of money, but we can hope that the natural selection of civic survival will render it extinct before it struts off the drawing board and into construction on Broad Street.

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David Brussat

My freelance writing and editing on architecture 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 https://architecturehereandthere.com/

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4 Comments

  1. David Brussat on November 3, 2020 at 12:21 am

    At least graffiti has the merit of being erasable or overpainted. I think those who wonder about calliopes or xylophone tunes are sensing the vibes of this proposal. There is a right time and place for such vibes, but the gateway to an elegant, beautiful, historical park is not it. And frankly, this “gateway” would be inappropriate even for the Roger Williams Carousel.



  2. Ed Iannuccilli on November 2, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    Will there be a calliope at the entrance?



    • RINewsToday on November 2, 2020 at 3:08 pm

      Or a xylophone tune?



      • Lesley Maxwell on November 2, 2020 at 10:19 pm

        How long before it’s covered with graffiti?