See “Divine Providence”

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The film celebrates this special moment in Providence’s history, and the individuals who made it possible.

See “Divine Providence”

By David Brussat, Architecture Here and There

On Sunday, Aug. 11 at 2:30 p.m., in the elegant RISD Auditorium (1940), the Rhode Island International Film Festival will feature Divine Providence: The Rebirth of an American City. How it qualifies as international may be open to question, but the documentary was in the works for at least four years, and I am glad its director, Salvatore Mancini, has finished the job. He says that it focuses on the history and transformation of downtown Providence. The film traces Providence’s rise to greatness, defined by a handful of iconic architectural gems, examines the reasons for its decline, and then looks closely at the complex workings behind its triumphant rebirth. The film celebrates this special moment in Providence’s history, and the individuals who made it possible.

Philip D. Creer, architect. A 5-story, steel-frame, brick-and-stone-clad structure in a modernized Georgian Revival mode. Its interior is a particularly fine example of the Moderne of the 1930s. The Georgian-cum-Moderne exterior was designed to harmonize with the Colonial and Federal buildings nearby and represents a continuation of the school’s [now discontinued] contextual architecture built beginning with the College Building at 2 College Street. Unfortunately, however, a number of architecturally interesting buildings were demolished to make way for this building, including John Holden Greene’s Granite Block of 1823.

One might quibble with this last judgment, since the demolished buildings were replaced, arguably, by something as good or even better. That has not been the case with more recent RISD buildings, especially the new wing of the RISD Art Museum, which is inferior to the parking lot upon which it was erected. Such history and such argumentation are what make Mancini’s documentary so fascinating, whether you agree with its judgments or not.