Downcity garage won’t look like one

By Michael Souza
PBN Staff Writer

When Johnson & Wales University completes construction of a new parking garage at 35 Richmond St. next year, the new building will conform to the latest safety features, include some unique design elements and most importantly, conform to the historical context of the surrounding area. More

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Downcity garage won’t look like one

DRIVING FACTOR: The JWU parking garage on Richmond Street will fit into the historic nature of its surroundings.

By Michael Souza
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 10/8/12

When Johnson & Wales University completes construction of a new parking garage at 35 Richmond St. next year, the new building will conform to the latest safety features, include some unique design elements and most importantly, conform to the historical context of the surrounding area.

The proposal received the praise of the Providence Downcity District Review Commission at its April 2012 hearing, and the final plan is wrapping up, with a groundbreaking scheduled for Oct. 15.

One of the creators behind the design was Senior Associate Joseph E. Caldiera, of Vision 3 Architects of Providence, who served as the lead designer and project manager. “What makes it interesting as a project for the city and the university is that it’s in the historic Downcity district, which had its own challenges. It is the first garage of its kind in the city, where you’re trying to disguise a parking garage with the surrounding area,” he said. “The design challenge was to create an image of a building that would complement the historic fabric of the district yet have its own identity.”

Vision 3 Architects served as design consultant responsible for “image architecture,” developing the look of the building, including the exterior façade, materials, design and permitting, including the city’s district-review commission. Vision 3 will also coordinate the site work and landscape architecture, as well as design of the first-floor commercial space, a new wrinkle on Richmond Street.

Walker Parking Consultants of Boston served as the lead on the project, engineering the six-story, 750-car structure measuring 43,000 square feet. It will be situated at the intersection of Richmond and Pine Streets in the historic district.

The plan called for demolishing an existing building on a portion of the property, the Mirabar building, prior to construction of the larger facility. Caldiera said the Mirabar building was also considered historic, making it necessary to ensure that the new facility met or exceeded the district’s requirements.

As required by the zoning ordinance, the parking garage must be classified as mixed use, requiring the ground level to be a commercial space that is consistent and complimentary to the surrounding area. Caldiera estimates the space to be 3,000 square feet, and said the garage will be used only for faculty, staff and commuting students, with no public parking. The garage will be five stories high but include six levels of parking. A metal canopy will sit above the commercial space and vertical glass banners will run along a portion of the Richmond Street side.

Dimeo Construction Co. of Providence has been chosen as the construction manager.

Security was also an important factor to the community and paramount to the school. Elevators and stairs were designed to accommodate accessibility, so they were located on an outside wall, including a glass-backed elevator. “Anywhere in the building you will have clear access and exposure to daylight,” Caldiera said.

The stair tower on Richmond Street will be made with doors that open outward. The stair towers will be made of glass and metal. The glass design was added to increase security by not allowing those spaces to be enclosed and dark.

Robert E. Azar, acting director of planning and development, said Johnson & Wales requested a waiver from DRC regulations relative to the new construction.

“The garage incorporates storefronts into the façade on Richmond street, and we require that when a building is against the street, they need a certain degree of transparency, glass that looks into the building,” said Azar.

What makes the garage unique is the attention to building materials, carefully conceived in order to disguise the building’s use. Caldiera credits the materials as one of the main reasons why the project met the scrutiny of the review commission. All exposed façades will be made of real brick and the base will be made of stone at the pedestrian level. “It will compliment the Providence Performing Arts Center as well as the other nearby buildings,” he said.

Another difference from typical garages is that the fenestration – in this case, the openings from the parking areas to the exterior – will be constructed to look like windows, not long stretches along the entire face of one side.

The wall heights have also been planned to minimize the influence of headlights on the neighborhood. In addition, landscaping will include some green space and some pavers to compliment the area. •

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