A large brick building with a clock tower.

R.I.H., a place for healing? – David Brussat

by David Brussat, Architecture Here and There, contributing writer

Photo: Rhode Island Hospital’s Southwest Pavilion, 1900, Stone, Carpenter & Willson. (PPS)

Editor’s note: Two days ago I received a pacemaker at Rhode Island Hospital. I was discharged yesterday, and just by chance I happened upon this old post from 2016 about the proposed demolition of the hospital’s old Southwest Pavilion, for whose doom the skids were greased. I thought it might be a perfectly fitting toast to the hospital. My experience suggested that the quality of the hospital has been in decline since I had open-heart surgery there in 2020, just before the pandemic. But that’s true of almost every institution in our society. Anyway, thanks to the nursing staff, I managed to survive the surgery, which is almost routine by now, and thanks to the medical staff, my wounds are giving me minimal pain. I’ll leave it at that.

A movement to improve the appearance of hospitals, on the theory that an attractive hospital can be of assistance in the healing process. If so, the movement has much work to do.


For about an hour tomorrow afternoon may be spent in silence for a good cause – sitting mute at a meeting to save the Southwest Pavilion. This is the oldest survivor from the day when Rhode Island Hospital looked like a place to care for people rather than like a pile of adding machines to tot up the obscene profits of a health industry gone bonkers.

The Zoning Board of Review meeting begins at 4:45 p.m. tomorrow on the first floor of the city’s planning office, 444 Westminster St. That’s the clunky brick building acquired by the city so that its planners could trade down from their old offices in the Caesar Misch Building (1903), across Empire Street, into a Brutalist building that seems to represent the city’s blunted ambition for architecture. (See any design proposed for the I-195 land.)

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that Rhode Island Hospital seeks to overturn a decision last December by the City Plan Commission that blocked a proposed demolition of the Southwest Pavilion. The hospital’s claim that it can find no use for it is highly dubious. It does not want to find a use for it. It will not say so, but it probably wants eventually to build another new building to further uglify its campus. Why? So that it will seem more in sync with the modern mission of its leadership.

Really? I don’t know. I only know what it looks like.

Hospitals used to be about people – patients, nurses, doctors. Now they are about money. That has been the far from subtle message of its architecture for decades.

I am sure the Providence Preservation Society, which is sponsoring this silent protest, does not see eye-to-eye with my cynicism on this, but the society is against tearing down a building of beauty, which means maybe it is getting back to its original mission.

The public is barred from speaking at this meeting, so a loud silence will reign. You can sign to participate in this sit-in by clicking here.


To read other articles by 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, [email protected], or call (401) 351-0451.