We worked with a private development company to explore urban development projects on Thayer Street and Wayland Square in Providence, Rhode Island. Both projects explored the changing dynamic of the Brown University neighborhood and the city’s search for projects responsive to the historic commercial patterns, and the need to provide a more diverse portfolio of urban residential prototypes.
Thayer street in Providence is the main street of the Brown University neighborhood. It serves as the hub of community social and night life. It also serves as a small rental office district for many Brown University administrative functions. Our work investigated a key corner parcel in the heart of the Thayer Street district, currently occupied by a non-descript one-story building. The Wayland Square site likewise is now occupied by a one-floor commercial building.
DumontJanks researched zoning in these sensitive districts, met with city planning leadership to understand the city’s long-term aspirations, listened to the developer’s observations of market potential, and on Thayer Street, determined a possible mixed building-use idea that combines ground floor retail, office, and residential lofts. This use pattern reflects the historic pattern of the district and would accommodate the district’s need for additional office space and a more diversified portfolio of smaller residential apartments/lofts.
The compact site’s main challenges were to maximize the allowable zoning envelope while manipulating the building massing to limit shadows and to transition the building scale to the abutting wood-frame homes. The corner location also provided excellent solar exposure and view opportunities to the Brown campus from the upper floors.
For both sites, we were able to convince the city to rethink the allowable building massing criteria to favor the existing neighborhood's access to sunlight via a step-down idea to match abutting building height. Given the demand for an active street, we suggested ground-floor retail uses and upper-floor office lofts with the highest floors reserved for residential lofts, encouraging building and district activity throughout the day and evening. With the top floor as residential, building massing become more transparent with additional windows enlarging the long views toward the Brown campus, adding more value and uniqueness to the residential portfolio.
The project ideas were presented successfully to city authorities and were approved for implementation.