Updated July 1 at 9:01pm

Bygone-era design a key for startups

By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer

Walking into the common area of Betaspring, the startup accelerator at 95 Chestnut St., Providence, is how emerging entrepreneurs meet. And it’s not an accident that they do so.

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FOCUS: CONSTRUCTION, DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE

Bygone-era design a key for startups

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Walking into the common area of Betaspring, the startup accelerator at 95 Chestnut St., Providence, is how emerging entrepreneurs meet. And it’s not an accident that they do so.

“We have an open, central communal space to host larger and smaller gatherings, but also to provide a nexus to meet purposely but also randomly,” said Owen Johnson, a Betaspring founder and managing partner. “Serendipity is an important aspect, to encourage random connections.”

Twentieth-century city buildings like this one, known as the Russell Irons Building, that have been renovated through adaptive reuse to house a mix of commercial, creative or residential enterprises, share some architectural features in common, highlighted by the preservation of open spaces mixed with partitioned or walled-off office or studio space.

Liliane Wong, a professor and department head for interior architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, defines adaptive reuse as transforming an unused or underused building into one that serves a new purpose, “reimagining existing structures” as well as “creating connections across the fabric of time and space.”

Historic mills typically had high ceilings to accommodate manufacturing equipment and large windows to let in natural light. As they became vacant, reuse enabled features like the wide-open spaces, hardwood floors and post-and-beam construction to preserve a character that now sets them apart, tenants say.

To that end, the Russell Irons Building, which Betaspring leases, the Mercantile Block on Washington Street in Providence, where much of the programming for AS220 takes shape, and Anchor, a mixed-use building at 42 Rice St. on Federal Hill, exemplify how adaptive reuse can marry form and function.

Located on the third floor, Betaspring outfits its open area with a mix of work benches, couches and even hammocks for people to work creatively in a more relaxed atmosphere.

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