Better than most shopping malls, especially in the city, but proof that this form doesn’t work well urbanistically, Providence Place may be the formal and functional limit of this prevalent twentieth-century form. The developer Providence Place Group, hired Boston’s Arrowstreet architects for overall programmatic design and massing. The result is that the exterior’s bulk is all too apparent despite admirable attempts to modulate it through applied detail, the work of Friedrich St Florian. The whole should eventually blend into the emerging urban landscape as the land in Capital Center fills with buildings in front of it. Getting into it, though, is tough, either on foot or by car. There few obvious pedestrian entrances on the street, and the mediocre entrance-and-exit organization of the attached parking deck makes for long delays. The mass and articulation of the exterior, however, do provide the great service of creating a strong western terminus to Capital Center that blocks the view of Interstate 95 from Capital Center and the State House. The interior, however, suffers from how it has been organized into a nightmare of circulation, both horizontally and vertically. There are far too few and too widely spaced accesses to vertical circulation, and, beyond the main level, horizontally circulation is constricted and offers limited access from side to side. From a marketing perspective, the plan offers maximum exposure to the largest number of retail establishments; such is desirable for mall owners, for retailers, and, perhaps in this era of shopping as recreational activity, even for most mall visitors, for whom the promenade is more important than the purchase. But worth considering is the exposed structural system, which pays homage to the great ferro-vitreous structures of nineteenth-century Europe, like the original Bon Marché by Boileau & Eiffel. The vertical steel supports exfoliate as they rise, in a manner reminiscent of the newfound technologies of the mid-nineteenth-century that celebrated their novelty. The Winter Garden, an open, glazed expanse situated – amazingly – above the intersection of the Woonasquatucket River and the rail line several floors below, is worth a visit for, if nothing else, its views east and west.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture