Lacking the Vision to Creatively Reuse a Brutalist Building, Providence Opts for Its Demolition

Fogarty Building
The Fogarty Building, Courtesy of the City of Providence, archive photo gallery

The Providence Journal is reporting that the Fogarty Building in Providence will finally be torn down and replaced with a high rise hotel. As you may know by reading this blog or by following me on Twitter, I am a big fan of the concrete architecture of the sixties and seventies and an even bigger fan of the Fogarty Building. An outstanding example of Brutalist architecture in Downtown Providence, the John E. Fogarty Memorial Building was designed by the Providence firm of Castellucci, Galli & Planka. It opened in 1968. Unfortunately, the news that it will be torn down is not surprising as no one could find a creative solution that would save the building and some wanted to see its destruction from the beginning.

Occupying an entire city block, the three-story building—reminiscent in many ways to Boston’s great Boston City Hall—ushered in a new era full of optimism for Providence. Constructed using reinforced concrete, the building was originally commissioned to house the state’s welfare services. It then became the home of Department of Human Services until 1999.

While on the city’s watch, the building fell into disrepair and crumbled. It eventually was transformed into an ugly duckling; an eyesore too ugly and too hated to be saved from the wrecking ball.

Ignored by city officials and pedestrians (except those with a deep appreciation for its beauty), The Fogarty Building remained vacant for many years, often inviting unfavorable criticism from the public and even the city’s then architecture critic who favored the Georgian Revival style seen all over Providence over the architecture of the Recent Past that dominates much of the Downtown Arts District (you can read David Brussat’s words here, and here. The list goes on and on).

Over the years, many forms of redevelopment had been proposed, but nothing came to fruition—the building was too hip, too fresh and too young for a city that refused to embrace a forward-looking structure such as this one.

When I lived in Providence, the Fogarty Building was one of my favorite buildings, and still is. This past Fall I traveled to Providence to use the print studios of AS220, a non-profit organization located in Downtown Providence, half a block away from the Fogarty Building. While at AS220, I worked on a print of—wait for it—the Fogarty Building. I’ll miss this building terribly and I know others who appreciated it, will too.

Instagram of my Fogarty Building print.

I’ll be heading down to Providence within the next week or so to say my final goodbye to this Heroic piece of 20th century architecture in Providence. If you would like to learn more about Providence’s Modern and Recent Past architecture, there is a self-guided walking tour of downtown buildings. I highly recommend you take a stroll this Spring and admire works by the likes of Paul Rudolph and I.M. Pei among others.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Cynthia says:

    A beautiful print, Anulfo.
    Date: Tue, 12 Jan 2016

  2. Catherine says:

    Love most Brutalist buildings, unfortunately you and I seem to be in the minority. As a member of a llocal mid-century modern group, a few years ago we were posting a Top 50 of MCM residences and buildings. Our small group argued over whether or not to include a Brutalist house. Only me and the leader of the group, an architect, thought it should be. Like it or not, its another beautiful form of the time period. We have a few of these buildings in Tucson, luckily still in use. Great blog!

  3. Lin says:

    How the city of Water Fire, full of RISD students, and such a vibrant place for artists, could do this…I don’t know. Love it or not, it is a part of Providence’s architectural history. Even (real) Georgian-lovin’ me can see this work of art. A fiction writer I like once described a building as looking like the box an actual good building came in. I hope that’s not what we’re getting.

  4. Although I have never advocated for the destruction of these buildings, I will confess that I didn’t always appreciate brutalist architecture. I used to think Boston’s City Hall was an ugly blemish on an otherwise pretty city. But I appreciate it’s quirky, solid, direct form. And it fits Boston. It’s got attitude.

    Imagine what you could do with a building like the Fogarty? This is where my lottery-winning fantasies go! Buy the building. Fill it with artists, entrepreneurs, writers, an amazing bookshop, a frame shop and a gallery. Create a community space on an entire block. And don’t forget the green roof!

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