Proposed Providence library signage running into questions
THE PROVIDENCE PUBLIC LIBRARY is proposing to put programmable LED-infused mesh on its Empire and Washington streets facade to help promote special collections and other happenings at its historical downtown complex.
PROVIDENCE – The Providence Public Library wants to update the facade of its 1954 Empire Street addition by mounting a series of LED-mesh screens on two sides of the structure.
The light-emitting diode technology, embedded in woven metal screens, is designed to be dormant during daylight hours, but would be animated at night.
Is it an appropriate adaptation for the historic structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places?
The R.I. Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission has not yet decided, but its executive director said Thursday he has concerns about the application.
The historical commission has authority to approve the request because it awarded the nonprofit library a $150,000 grant for exterior improvements in 2015, which carries an easement that requires commission approval for any changes to the exterior, said Ted Sanderson, executive director.
“We’re in the process of reviewing it with them,” said Sanderson. “We have expressed to them very deep concern.”
Sanderson said he’s asked for a sample of the mesh overlay, which he said would have a depth of some 16 inches. One of the issues, he said, is a question whether the installation could damage the limestone façade of the structure. The larger concern is it would change the appearance of the building, even when not illuminated.
The original library building dates to 1900, while the Empire Street addition was added in 1954. As a whole, the building is considered historical, and the 1950s addition is notable in its own right, Sanderson said.
“Our concern is it changes the architectural character of the building to have this product applied,” he said.
The five LED panels sought by the library also will require approval from the city’s Downtown Design Review Committee, because their size is larger than the area allowed for signs downtown, and because they are electronic.
A rendering submitted to the city as part of the applications shows an example of how they might be used to promote a historical collection using computer-generated illustrations.
They would wrap around a corner of the building, and would range in size, installed on the exterior vertical surface between windows.
The Washington Street panel would be 15 feet, 7 inches by 23 feet, the largest of the five. The four on the Empire Street side would include one at 12 feet, 9 inches, by 23 feet, and three smaller panels, according to the design.
The purpose of the screen system, according to the library’s executive director, Jack Martin, is to display artistic, educational and informational content relevant to the library, and its programs and collections. It is intended as a cultural asset and would not carry advertising.
The Mediamesh installation is designed by GKD Industries, of Cambridge, Md., and is a woven, programmable metal mesh screen with integrated LEDs, according to a description.
Martin said the LED display is intended to be a component of a larger, transformational renovation of the building, designed by Boston architect designLab architects, which will update the library for modern times.
The LED panels will allow the library to display items from its special collections, Providence historical photographs and the work of local artists. Each display is programmable.
The larger renovation planned by the library will include a replacement of exterior windows and cleaning of the façade, as well as a significant interior redesign, Martin said. The interior redesign is still being determined, Martin said. Ideally, the library hopes to begin the work in September.
One of his concerns, he said, is that the renovations are contingent on donor funding. In one instance, a donor has identified the need for a transformational redesign of the building, including the Mediamesh installation, as part of their gift.
The mesh will be unobtrusive when applied to the building, and will not damage the exterior. “The mesh looks like it’s going to be floating on top of the building,” Martin said.