Providence Symposium 2012: My Reflections

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Friday portion of the Providence Symposium, entitled Not Always Pretty: Behind the Facade of Historic Preservation in Providence.  It was organized by the Providence Preservation Society and held at the Providence Department of Planning and Development, AS220, and the offices of the Northeast Collaborative Architects. Here are my observations on the day.

  • It’s great that there are local organizations hosting preservation conferences.  They are much cheaper than national conferences, which is awesome for someone looking for work and wanting to stay in the area when that work is found.  I’ve really been away from Rhode Island for three years, since the summer of 2009 when I interned at the Baseball Hall of Fame, followed by two years in Cooperstown, NY for grad school with a summer in between interning at a museum at the site of Woodstock, and then a year in Columbus, Ohio with AmeriCorps to survey historic properties.  It was wonderful to see familiar faces including that of a former professor and to catch up with these friendly faces.  If nothing else, networking has yielded me a few places needing volunteers and I should have no problem keeping well-practiced when I need it.

The sessions I attended were interesting, it’s always nice to see the local preservation community come together to make presentations, and given that many people knew one another the panel discussions effortlessly included the audience. It wasn’t a “hold all questions until the end” conference at all.

The morning speaker spoke about “Preservation’s Legacy: Examining the History of Historic Preservation in Providence” which included a nice presentation with a lot of pictures of how Providence looked as the Preservation movement was just beginning.  I love seeing photographs of how buildings changed overtime, so this was up my alley, and I definitely learned something as more of my knowledge on preservation history in Rhode Island rests in Newport.  It was a nice way to start the conference and clever too to start with the history of the field in the area to really get in the mindset.  Good call, PPS and Providence Symposium organizers.

  • I always have a hard time choosing which sessions to go to because, as I’m sure for many, there are always at least two to debate upon.

I chose to go to “Sustaining Icons of Early Preservation: Shakespeare’s Head, Stephen Hopkins House, Esek Hopkins House, Betsy Williams Cottage” over “Here Comes the Neighborhood: Stabilizing and Sustaining Neighborhoods through Historic Preservation” for the morning breakout session, but I think I would have been pleased with either.  The third option was “Industrial Preservation in Providence” and I know I would have enjoyed that too.  I’m really pretty easy going, just give me cool buildings and I’m a happy architectural historian.  The speakers in my session were definitely comfortable with one another so the panel discussion took on a conversational tone that was both entertaining and informative.

  • What’s great was that all three locations were all within a block and a half of one another, which made walking to different sessions doable within the time limit.  There were plenty of places for lunch within that same distance, and for me there was the bonus of the bus station being within walking distance as well.

Neat clock on my walk back to the bus station.

  • After the morning breakout session it was lunchtime! I’m rarely up in Providence with free time, so I was excited to get to spend some of my time eating lunch there. I had the conference fail of not wearing the proper shoes so my feet were not happy by then, but it all worked out perfectly as I was closest to the Providence Coal Fired Pizza and I had heard good things about them, plus I love pizza.  I ordered the Meatball Pizza and it was wonderful.

The pizza stove is in the dining area. Great use (and reuse) of a space.


  • Many other people had the same food idea as I did, so there were many conference goers enjoying the pizza, and I ate solo, but that was fine as I ended up talking with two speakers who sat at the table next to me. Overall, I really need to get better with my mingling, I have a hard time breaking into already started conversations especially when I don’t know people, but lunchtime  usually creates a more relaxed atmosphere, and what’s more relaxing than gooey pizza when no one is really concerned about the drippy cheese because it just tastes that good.

The afternoon session was on Brutalism, and it was amazing! Entitled “From Modernist Monuments to Concrete Carbuncles: The Challenges of Preserving Brutalist Architecture” the speaker was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.  It was a great topic to speak about given the recent coverage on Brutalist buildings and their preservation.  I can’t say that Brutalist buildings are my favorite, but I gained an immense appreciation for them after serving through AmeriCorps at the Ohio History Center which is a wonderful example of Brutalist architecture.

When built, people described the Ohio History Center as a sandwich, and it was hailed as a significant example of Brutalist architecture.

I attended “Tough Choices: The Policies and Politics of Historic Preservation” for the afternoon breakout session and I am glad I did.  The panel had preservationists, planners, and developers, and I don’t think that happens all too often.  There was a great conversation happening with many Tweetable items dealing with a balance between preservation, what to preserve, and building new. I will share those with you tomorrow, as I hope that they will inspire a continued here.

I unfortunately had to duck out of that session just a few minutes early to catch the bus back home. I hope Saturday was as successful as Friday but I am sure it was.

Thank you to the organizers and hosts of the Providence Symposium as well as to the wonderful speakers.  See you next year!

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1 Response to Providence Symposium 2012: My Reflections

  1. Pingback: Providence Symposium 2012: My Tweets | Preservation and Place

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