By the end of the 1970s, architects of all persuasions were committed to the conscious shaping of public open spaces—a goal rarely addressed by earlier generations of Modernists. The campus of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, R.I., offered a prime subject for such an effort. RISD had grown by adapting a variety of existing structures and adding a few infill buildings. These were casually organized along streets that meander up College Hill from the riverfront toward the nearby Brown University campus.

The then-emerging architects Rodolfo Machado, Intl. Assoc. AIA, and Jorge Silvetti took up the challenge of creating defined spaces that would give the arts school an identifiable campus. They proposed reworking gaps in the urban fabric—parking lots, bits of redundant street, amorphous green patches—as a sequence of related spaces, bounded variously by new construction, remodeled façades, and loggias. Given the incline of about 100 feet from the lowest to the highest RISD properties, the scheme featured a series of grand stairs and intimate plazas recalling Baroque precedents. New architectural features shown schematically in the proposal played freely on the Classical precedents of some on-site buildings.

Jury members with such disparate design approaches as Frank Gehry and Robert Stern warmly endorsed the scheme. Gehry cited its “spectacular knitting together” of diverse elements, and Stern called it “extremely brilliant.” For all the jury’s enthusiasm, the ambitious proposal was not carried out, and RISD still fulfills its mission without a coherent campus.

1980 P/A Awards Jury
Frank O. Gehry, FAIA
Helmut Jahn, FAIA
John L. Kriken, FAIA
Wolfgang F.E. Preiser
Charles F. Rogers
Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA
Blanche Lemco van Ginkel
Francis T. Ventre