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What Cheer/What Jeer: January 2009

whatcheerWashington Trust

What Cheer to Washington Trust for moving from their suburban style drive-thru ridden Washington Street location to a nice urban non-drive-thru location on Westminster.

Bonus points for a most excellent sign at the new location.

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whatcheerSymmes Maini & McKee Associates

What Cheer to Symmes Maini & McKee Associates for their design of the new Blue Cross Blue Shield Rhode Island headquarters building in Capital Center.

While reaction to the designs of the adjacent Waterplace Condo towers and new GTECH Headquarters has been mixed, the BCBS Tower design seems to integrate the best of both projects to seamlessly fit into Capital Center. The building features a glass curtain wall on the north and south sides of the building, with the south facade feature a very pleasing curve. The design of the glass facade borrows from the glass found on the GTECH Headquarters. On the east and west facade we see a pre-cast treatment reminiscent of the Waterplace Towers (but many would say more pleasing than the Waterplace Towers). In addition to it’s aesthetics, the BCBS building also seeks LEED Silver certification. According to an article in the New England Real Estate Journal the BCBS building will feature high-performing insulated glass curtain walls, daylight penetrating the full-height glass wall will enable sensors to dim or turn off building perimeter lighting, two “green” vegetated roofs, rainwater collection for use in the building’s cooling the equipment, and interior finishes such as furniture and finishes that are low-voc emitting, rapidly-renewable, and regionally developed.

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Washington Trust

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Washington Trust, Westminster Street.

I am so pleased that Washington Trust has moved from their horrid suburban style branch on Washington Street, to this nice new urban storefront on Westminster Street (I’m especially enchanted by that new sign, Love. It.). Banks are not the most exciting retail development for a downtown, and too many of them can actually put a damper on pedestrian traffic, displacing other retail that would generate foot traffic. But seeing an unused storefront put to use is great. And seeing a company turn it’s back on a location that was plainly designed for the automobile in favor of a location that is all about people on foot, that’s delicious.

So now that Washington Trust has their new digs with the awesome signage, my thoughts immediately turn to what should be done with their horrid little drive thru ridden former home on Washington Street?

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Washington Trust former Washington Street location.

My first instinct is to cry, “tear the sucker down!” It is terrible, it is not urban, it rips a huge hole in the street wall. It has a drive thru, it has surface parking, it is only two stories tall, it has almost zero glazing on the facade… But the environmentalist in me pauses for a minute to think tearing an existing building down, even such a tragic one, is a waste. Granted, much of the waste from demolition is recycled these days, but just the energy expended to build and then tear down the building is a waste. The other thought is that our history with tearing stuff down to build new stuff isn’t good. I’d rather see this dumpy box sitting around for years to come than see more surface parking.

Dave suggested the other night that this could possibly make a good location for a music venue. It is two stories tall, perhaps a hole could be cut between the two levels to allow for an upper level with a stage below. I could see that bare facade spruced up with a flashy marquee. It is in our Arts & Entertainment District with Trinity, AS220, and Lupo’s all steps away. Dave also suggested the adjacent surface lot could be used for outdoor festivals with the drive thru serving as a bar area, serve beers right out the window. I could see the surface lot becoming a beer garden (on nights when there are no shows) and this being the place to be on summer evenings, drinking beers and meeting friends al fresco.

So I’m torn. It would be wonderful to see that whole end of the block rebuilt with a nice 4-6 story building, retail on the ground, office/residential above. But on the other hand, perhaps this could be creatively re-used. I know I don’t want to see it torn down for more parking, and I don’t want to see another bank or a McDonald’s move in there reusing the drive thru.

One last thing:

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Ah Providence…

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This Old Downcity

Washington Trust

Future home of Washington Trust Bank on Westminster Street at Orange Street.

As Bret points out in his post about Blue Cross Blue Shield’s new HQ building, our nation’s (and state’s and city’s and world’s) dismal economy and the credit crunch mean that we are unlikely to see any more large new buildings built anytime soon. Hopefully what we will see, is more of the above. Washington Mutual is moving their main branch from the horribly suburban, drive-thru location on Washington Street to this location (sans drive-thru) on Westminster Street. The horrid Dryvit clad ground floor exterior of this building is now giving way to a nice glass and stone facade. I understand there was a lot of back and forth with the DRC over how this renovation would look, I’ll tell ya, so far it is shaping up nice.

Snow & Westminster Streets

Corner of Snow Street and Westminster Street.

I don’t know what is going on at this building. I believe this is the current home of the State Archives, occasionally there are items on display on the ground floor, but basically it is a big hole in the retail streetwall. However, it is a stunning building, check out the second floor. Anyone know what is going on here?

In other Downcity renovations, we have AS220 renovating the Mercantile Block (aka the Cogens Building), bringing in the MIT Fab Lab and ground floor retail. And over at RISD’s Fletcher Building we have Gourmet Heaven moving into the ground floor location on Weybosset Street which was most recently the home of New York New York. Durkee Brown is doing the design work, so I expect it to look sharp.

Will the new economy bring us more of this renovation in the place of the large scale developments we’ve been seeing over recent years? I’ll miss seeing more big buildings go up, but would be thrilled to see more of our built environment be polished up and returned to former glory.

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