The Steps of Providence


The Rhode Island School of Design (R.I.S.D.) has a strong reputation for design excellence, but, as an urban school that has grown largely by acquiring existing buildings, its campus is an ad hoc assemblage lacking form and character. The school responded by initiating a study to examine campus planning and design options. This project focuses on ways to develop the inherent qualities of the site, a steep slope that rises from the Providence River downtown to the city's most significant and historic district, where much of R.I.S.D. is located.

The study reveals numerous possibilities for creating a campus of distinction and, at the same time, providing the city with a unified pedestrian link between its riverfront and the historic district. The strategy includes a series of architectural and landscape interventions built around the theme of stairs. The theme is most dramatically expressed in Memorial Steps, the monumental stair connecting the rear of the student union (Memorial Hall) with a public plaza overlooking the river. Ceremonially, Memorial Steps and the plaza become the heart of the campus; structurally the steps are the roof for an expanded cafeteria and a public auditorium.

Steps are repeated throughout the site, linking various buildings and easing hillside circulation. Along the route, a number of special places invite pause. Currently amorphous or leftover spaces are transformed into terraces, gardens, cloisters, and small sitting areas. The proposal also uses buildings to complement these public spaces. Some existing buildings along the route are remodeled and new structures include a dormitory that edges a stepped garden and a courtyard structure containing studios for graduate students.

Year: 1978
Rhode Island School of Design
Providence, RI

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