Farnum Hall is one of those buildings that – sadly – might have outlived its usefulness for RISD. I normally don’t advocate for the demolition of structures like this, but admittedly, the aesthetics of the building are only mediocre. Add to that the fact that the building does indeed sit atop the path of the East Side Railroad Tunnel, and due to years and years of trains running underneath it, the foundation has undergone extensive damage. It’s a nice building and could be saved, but it is also part of a desirable neighborhood, so I’m sure the land could go to better use.
RISD – for now – plans to use the area as green space and probably some parking, though I think they actually want some recreational space on the site, which will be nice for RISD as well as the neighbors.
From All-Nighter.com, by Mathew McNamara, Jan 19 2011
Farnum Hall was originally constructed during the mid ‘20s to early ‘30s as an apartment building for urban professionals. Built around the time of the Great Depression, Farnum was made with inexpensive materials and a cheap house plan and construction. RISD purchased Farnum in 1961 for student housing, approximately thirty years after it was built. It was used as student residency until 2004, when it was deemed unsafe due to its physical condition. That same year, 15 West opened with room for 500 more students, and Farnum Hall was abandoned.
Within the context of RISD planning, Farnum has long been a topic of review and study. According to facilities directors Jack Silva and Paul Mullen, since the early ‘90s, more than five studies have been implemented to see if it was possible to bring the building up to code through reconstruction and renovation. Every study concluded that the building is simply beyond repair. According to Silva, “It doesn’t make any financial sense to try and repair the building as it is.” Silva explained, “Geotechnical experts [have studied] the condition of the site... when the foundation broke it wracked the building.”
Farnum sits directly atop a train tunnel, and over time, the foundation has cracked. As a result, the renovation would involve completely dismantling the building, fixing the foundation, and rebuilding it, which, according to Silva, is not practical. “It would mean going in and literally fixing all of the elements that are now broken, in addition to upgrading to the proper code required dimension of things.”
With that in mind, last summer RISD began Farnum’s application for demolition, holding several meetings with the Providence Historic District Commission and the Providence Preservation Society [PPS] to review Farnum before gaining approval for demolition. RISD alumnus and current Executive Director of PPS, James Hall, shared some concerns about demolishing Farnum.
From Wikipedia.org’s page on Royal B. Farnum
Royal Bailey Farnum (11 June 1884 – 28 August 1967) was an American art educator who served in administrative roles in various public and private educational institutions in Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island during the first half of the 20th Century.
[...] In 1929, he took a job as Educational Director for the Rhode Island School of Design and was subsequently promoted to Executive Vice President in 1937. He served as president of the National Association for Art Education from 1936-1938, the National Association of Schools of Design from 1925-1936, and the Federal Council on Art Education from 1925-1936. During World War II, he helped the war effort by assisting in the development of color schemes for optimal camouflage. Farnum was bestowed with an honorary Art D. from Brown University in 1935 and received the Michael Friedsam Medal in 1942. RISD’s Farnum Hall is named after him. He retired from RISD in 1946 and died in Plainfield, Connecticut in 1967.
Jin Jul 25 2011 I was one of the very last residents of this building, from 2003 fall to 2004 summer for one academic year. But I think the building was used until 2005 as a residence and probably after that it was used as a studio space for painting dept for another year. My room was on the second floor, second from the right on Photo 3. One of the school residential director used to live on the first floor, she didn’t like me. I remember the place was so full of mice that I needed to keep all my snacks in plastic boxes, completely sealed. I shot part of my very first short film in the basement where the laundromat used to be. Even though the condition was horrible, the view from my room was fantastic. Very sad to see it has been demolished. But for sure, it was one of the ugliest buildings on that street.
Al Chin Jun 9 2011 Farnum Hall will be demolished beginning Tuesday, June 14 and continuing through Friday, June 17.
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