Fellow Story

Grande op-ed argues for a green redo of Providence art deco landmark

Aja Grande's Providence Journal op-ed highlights the opportunity to reclaim languishing urban landmarks, such as Providence's 'Superman building', to support a vibrant green economy.

Art deco landmark begs a green revolution

By Aja Grande and Sam Coren

In the setting sun of a summer afternoon, a peregrine falcon circles the beacon tower atop the Industrial Trust building in downtown Providence. At night, the beacon glows moon blue, casting its light for miles in every direction.

Today, close to a hundred years since groundbreaking, the Trust endures as a centerpiece of the urban landscape, and a metonym for the metropolis at large. However the Trust, now listed as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places by the National Trust of Historic Preservation, has sat empty since 2013. The exterior shows signs of wear, but a 2020 study co-authored by the Providence Preservation Society and Building Enclosure Science group shows the Trust is in “solid condition.”

What will become of the Trust? In its first life (1928-2013), the building was continuously anchored by banks — but Providence may never again become a regional finance capital. Instead, the city’s central business district, where the Trust resides, has become more residential than commercial, as landlords convert old office buildings to apartments in response to unprecedented demand.    Architect and Rhode Island School of Design professor Liliane Wong remarked that “the vacancy of Superman is no longer unique.” Office towers are losing traditional tenants in cities across the U.S. — and indeed the world — as many workers shift to a seemingly permanent default of working remotely. But cities are not shrinking so much as restructuring, for better or worse, and any just transition to a greener economy must involve them. Perhaps then, the iconic power of the Trust — and other newly endangered towers like it — can be harnessed to advance a greener paradigm. ...
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