Updated March 27 at 1:27pm

Teamwork key to vision for South Street Landing

Agreement about design isn't a given as three architectural firms collaborate on the $220 million South Street Landing project slated for completion in early 2018. But the developer's vision of a vibrant addition to Providence keeps them on track, …

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Teamwork key to vision for South Street Landing

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Agreement about design isn't a given as three architectural firms collaborate on the $220 million South Street Landing project slated for completion in early 2018. But the developer's vision of a vibrant addition to Providence keeps them on track, project leaders say.

This is the first time all three firms are working together, said Project Manager Nick Koulbanis, an associate with Tsoi/Kobus & Associates of Cambridge, Mass.

His firm is working closely with Michael Viveiros, principal at Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels Architects in Providence, and Al Spagnolo, founding principal of Spagnolo Gisness & Associates of New York and Boston.

SG&A is designing the River House student housing and parking garage and is also overseeing the master plan for the entire project.

The developer, CV Properties President Richard A. Galvin, said in an email he chose these three firms because he wants South Street Landing to feature "world-class design" that "set[s] the stage for revitalization" of the Jewelry District.

That means, project leaders note, adherence to historic-preservation principles and using green spaces to create livable areas outside the buildings to attract visitors, as well as students, faculty and others to the city.

A clear objective for the project near Davol Square between South, Point and Eddy streets and the Providence River is to house a nursing education center for Rhode Island College and University of Rhode Island within the historic former Narragansett Lighting Co. power station. Separate buildings would be added for parking and student housing on the site.

Offices for Brown University would also be housed in the former utility building, Koulbanis said.

The redesign of the power station is slated for occupancy in spring 2017; the garage will be complete this October, and the student-housing complex will be complete in 2018, Spagnolo said.

A key adjustment involved making sure there were adequate buffers between the three major structures – the power station, garage and student-housing buildings, said Koulbanis.

"Early on, ideas [surfaced about] different ways to place the buildings to allow views of the power station," said Koulbanis, noting that the former utility building is on the National Register of Historic Places, so that historic preservation is an important component during development.

SG&A angled the buildings so "you could see the end of our building more prominently," Koulbanis said. "And it allows views down the river."

"There was a lot of emphasis on the public realm – the space outside the buildings," Spagnolo said. The emphasis on public areas, including a park-like setting along the riverfront, a riverwalk, a pedestrian bridge and other outdoor gathering spaces was important to the developer, he said.

"We view this as a transformative project that establishes a strong fabric for the emerging neighborhood," he said.

There will also be an opportunity to draw the public into retail establishments on the first floor of the Point Street student-housing complex, which will house 270 residents, he noted.

Inside the power station, Michael Viveiros explained, teamwork evolved naturally when his firm pushed early on to leave brick exposed where feasible.

"It's an argument we pushed, and TK&A was supportive of that and able to convince the entire team that that was a good design strategy," Viveiros said.

While the inside of a nursing school lab should be clean and clinical, exposing brick in offices, conference rooms and public areas would enhance and celebrate the historic architecture, without compromising the "green" energy efficiency of the building, he added.

Examining which support structures for the power station's enormous windows would work best also required a lot of give and take. Having to coordinate practical structural and preservation concerns, as well as cost and the time frame to execute the work all come into play, Viveiros said.

As the firm in charge of the overall master plan, SGA had to "orchestrate" the efforts of consultants as needed in the evolution of the design process, Spagnolo said. Koulbanis added that Galvin gets directly involved on key points as well.

"Integrated project delivery and virtual-design programs allow architects to facilitate the sharing of images and concepts," Spagnolo said, but connecting face to face remains important too.

"Early in our conceptual phase, we worked closely with TK&A and conducted numerous joint presentations to the client and the major stakeholders," he said. "In a trusting manner, each design firm was able to explore and then critique alternate solutions." •

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