Talk about the right man at the right time. William Warner was the architect and planner who saw the big picture — the really big picture — back in the 80’s when downtown Providence was a shabby dump. He could see that if we just pulled up the parking lots, pulled down the railroad bridges, redirected some rivers, moved a highway we might we might actually have something here. If the devil is in the details Warner must have sold his soul because every footbridge, lamppost, railing, arch, pier, balluster and bollard has been designed and integrated into a glorious whole. Nothing is ordinary. Everything is lovely and graceful. According to the Providence Journal,
Friedrich St. Florian, who taught architecture with Warner at the Rhode Island School of Design and was a longtime friend, was one of the participants in a now-famous conversation in April 1981 at Blue Point, a former oyster bar on North Main Street. A group of then-young architects, including St. Florian and Warner, disgruntled at what they saw as a lack of inspired planning at Providence’s City Hall, sketched what became the layout of Providence’s rivers on a linen napkin. “I went home and forgot about it,” St. Florian said. Warner didn’t. Ultimately, with work by engineers, politicians and officials at all three levels of government, the rivers were moved and parks and river walks built along them.
The riverfront and Waterplace Park could have been just another crumby, slapdash hodgepodge of individual projects, shoddy building materials, kickback scandals, and conventional design, but the vision of this one man led to something inspired and transcendent. Thank you William Warner.