Addition To Old Brick School House Raises Hackles

“WTF are you guys doing!” The Providence Preservation Society has lost at least one member; architecture critic David Brusatt has tendered his resignation in response to PPS plans for a glass-and-steel addition to the back of their own headquarters, the Old Brick School House built in 1769. From his website Architecture Here and There:

That the addition would deface only the rear of the building is no excuse. The rear of the building is visible from Old Court Street as you drive uphill from North Main or downhill from Benefit Street. You will see it as you pass by the original Rhode Island state house, built in 1762. In fact, the first state house was originally built in 1730 on the site of what is now the Old Brick School House.

The PPS announced the project via Instagram, with a mock-up of the proposal, earlier this month (I can find no mention on their website).

Sensitive adaptations to our 253 year old building are necessary so that it can serve as our HQ, an assembly hall, and education center— all with universally accessibility. Additionally, we’re making the building more sustainable with a new electric heating and cooling system.

Accessibility is certainly a worthy goal, and utility systems do need to be upgraded in these old buildings. Fire or a broken pipe can be catastrophic . . . still.

Perhaps I am recoiling at the addition’s similarity to all the cheap-looking, generic facades getting thrown up around town. Those interlocking pre-fab modular bits are everywhere. But Site Specific usually get things right; maybe some tweaking could make this design more palatable.

It has long been an article of faith in preservation circles that additions or modifications to an historic building should be distinct and readily identifiable, preserving the history of the site. But does it have to be this stark, and super-modern, to accomplish that?

Brussat hopes other members will join in his resignation protest:

If enough members of PPS and its sister organizations did the same, it would force preservation boards to come to their senses, do what members want them to do, and tell their staff to shape up or ship out.

PPS Meeting Hall, Old Brick School House, 24 Meeting Street, (directions)

4 thoughts on “Addition To Old Brick School House Raises Hackles”

  1. Jayson Salvi

    PPS a hypocritical organization. They’d be the first to complain if any other historic properties proposed this. Thank god I washed my hands of this over reaching, organization.

  2. The photo is slightly cropped, so one doesn’t exactly see the PPS School House in context. It sits next door to a kind of 1950s garage — complete with a big vintage ESSO logo painted on its wall. One is tempted to suggest the addition is not that far “out of context” with its neighborhood.

    OK, maybe that’s stretching the point. But the addition’s impact might be eased if the window frames weren’t so glaringly high-contrast black.

  3. Thank You Beth Comery. All of the new blocks of buildings in Providence look like blocks, dropped and placed by helicopter. These new buildings will have no historical value!

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