In September, 1972 when I started in as a freshman at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) an architectural studio class commenced during that semester that would have an important impact on the future of Providence over a decade later.
The class, taught by Professor Gerald Howes was looking at ways to improve transportation within the city, the prospect of high-speed rail service on the Northeast Corridor which would service the city and greenspaces being developed within the city business district and along the waterways that traverse the downtown. At the time I knew a student who was in the class and I heard about what they were doing in “real time.”
While the class did not envision that Amtrak would move the tracks north towards the State House, their work showed the way towards uncovering the Providence River and developing a pedestrian-friendly waterfront.
Through the book dealer in Providence that I purchased the 1959 Providence Urban Study book from, I was also able to buy an old copy of the 1974 “Interface: Providence” book that was produced by the RISD architectural class.
I have photographed the oversized book to show the ideas generated in the class. It’s the treatment of the riverfront that really stands out as a forerunner of what ultimately occurred in Providence. It is not often that students participate in a class that helps reshape a city, but this was the case in 1972-1973.
The cover shows an old illustration of the salt tidal cove that once graced the downtown but was later filled in over time. The class was inspired partly by this old feature of the city and created new waterfront and green areas that recalled the earlier time in the city’s history. Ultimately, the waterfront was changed to create what has become part of the attraction for visitors coming to Providence.
The photo on the right shows the huge parking lot that had existed between downtown and the Statehouse,
The front and back cover showing the old view of the city with the tidal cove still present.
Transportation discussion for downtown.
A concept sketch that looks quite like today’s riverfront.
A sketch showing the proposed park between the Statehouse and downtown.
A concept sketch showing the waterfront opened up for the enjoyment of residents and visitors, not too different than today’s reality, however, the WWI monument was moved south to the State Supreme Court building plaza and the Citizen’s Bank building was erected approximately where the monument is shown here.
Above and below: concepts for improving Union Station. In present day reality the old station is a mixed-use space and a new railroad station is now just below the Statehouse to the north.
Above: an overview for improving the riverfront area and quite similar to how the area was changed in the early ’90s.
Below: the concept for a park in front of the Statehouse showing the proposed cove pond.
Above: concepts for improving the greenspace of downtown.
Below: contemporary aerial photo showing the downtown business district, the Statehouse, the new railroad station, Providence Place Mall and the riverfront as finally realized. (Courtesy: Google Earth)