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Providence in Providence

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Xululabs, Xululabs

Project Name

Providence in Providence

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Project Description

The “provident” make provisions for the future, and so it seems fitting that the city named for that virtue, Providence, R.I., would use its train station to prepare for what must have seemed, 27 years ago, far off in the future. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the 1983 P/A citation–winning Providence train station shows how infrastructure can anticipate development long before it occurs. SOM, under the direction of then-associate partner Marilyn Taylor, located the station over rerouted train tracks, between the grounds of the Rhode Island State House and a yet-to-be-built Capital Center office, housing, and retail development.

Built largely as designed, the one-story station has a dome and central rotunda, echoing that of the nearby McKim, Mead & White–designed Capitol. A corner clock tower gives the low building its presence on the skyline, and the complex alignments of its plan recall the shifted axes of the 16th and 17th century French “hotels” that Michael Dennis analyzed in his 1986 book, Court and Garden. Unlike those aristocratic houses, though, wedged into the dense urban fabric of cities like Paris, this train station had to anticipate development that has only recently arrived to connect it to the downtown. In that sense, the station proved to be very provident. Its design accommodated the complex geometries of a circulation pattern oriented toward the Capitol and a structure aligned with the tracks, while its splayed plan opened out to what was then an imagined city, one that Providence eventually made happen.
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