Atlantic Mills Gasometer

also known as Atlantic Designworks, Hive Archive

An 1860s gasometer with unheroic uses for a century before being reborn as small business and community space

About this Property

#Redevelopment

As the history from SignalWorks Architects documents, the building was used as a gasometer by the Atlantic Mills until the turn of the century, when the dome was replaced by a flat, wood timbered roof. From about 1900 to 1940 they continued to use it as storage until leasing it to Arpin Van Lines until 1980. A jewerly manufacturer used it for another 20 years until it was vacated in 2000.

From about 2003 up until 2014, the art collection Hive Archive made the rotunda their home base. They got a grant and fundraised to strip the building down to the studs, support the rotunda ceiling with new steel trusses, repoint and repair the brick, upgrade some of the windows, were in the process of turning the building into studio, performance, and community spaces.

The work was never fully completed. Unfortunately, the Hive Archive dissolved as an organization in 20141 and the building was once again underutilized and vacant.

In 2015 the building was acquired by a new local developer under the corporate name Wide Plank Developers. Eric Army, AIA, and the renamed architectural firm SignalWorks (the first B-corporation architecture firm in the state) developed the building as a catalyst for a community venture as well as an office. The necessary work on the building was completed in 2017.

#Current Events

Atlantic Designworks is now a building with three distinct space for small businesses. The basement of the rotunda is a commercial kitchen with space for 30 guests. Currently five different tenants use the spaces.

#History

What is a gasometer?

A brick or stone structure, usually round, built to contain flammable gas. A dome or peaked roof was typically used as well. An adjacent structure was typically used to heat coal in the absence of air — a process known as coal gasification — which would release the flammable gas.2 The gas was then piped through utility lines to be burned in lighting fixtures. This supplied the mill with much needed artificial light at a time when many mills closed when it was too dark to work.

A thorough history was compiled by the architect and designers Studio Meja, now SignalWorks, of the Atlantic Designworks project.

From the RIHPHC’s survey of Providence Industrial Sites, July 1981

[…] In 1863 the Atlantic Delaine Company built an impressive 3-story, brick, pier-and-spandrel mill structure with an unusual round-domed tower surmounted by a glazed lantern; this mill was located immediately west of the 1851 mill. Built as a worsted mill, the 1863 mill contained worsted rooms, spinning rooms, spoiling rooms, warping rooms, and dressing rooms. The brick gasometer, built at the same time, still survives though its original dome and lantern have been removed. These structures were designed by Clifton A. Hall. […]

#In the News

The Hive Archive Stirs A New Buzz

by Rachael Scarborough King Providence Phoenix | June 15, 2005

It seems only natural that the Hive Archive, a collective of women artists located in Providence, would settle on a beehive-shaped building as its new permanent home. After several years of searching and fund-raising, the group now owns a former gas storage facility on Manton Street in Olneyville. The strange building, which consists of one triangular structure and one circular structure wedged together, will serve as a work and exhibition space for the collective, featuring performances, classes, and community space for female artists.

The Hive was founded in 2000 following the collapse of Fort Thunder, the fabled artists’ collective that was evicted from a mill building in Eagle Square. Arts impresario Sara Agniel, a Hive board member, says this event drew attention to the need for permanent artists’ spaces and to the predominantly male nature of many existing artists’ groups. “There was this overarching sense of, damn it, there is still this great disparity,” she recalls.

The Hive identifies as a feminist group, and Agniel says that many of its creative and business decisions are deliberate efforts to advance the cause of gender equality. The group raised $100,000 to buy the building, in 2003. Another $100,000 has been raised for construction and renovation. The group is currently accepting bids for work, and construction is expected to start early this fall.

While many mill complexes in Olneyville are being redeveloped, the area continues to draw for artists due to its low rents and historic structures. Agniel says there are only three former storage facilities – called gasometers – like the Hive’s left in the state. The building was originally used to store gas for the Atlantic Mills complex across the street, and then as a bead storage facility before going vacant. “It gives you a sense of the past, the historical use of this area in the 19th century,” Agniel says. “It’s nice to have this building coming back to life.”

While renovations continue, the Hive continues to partner with groups like AS220, the RISD Museum, and the Perishable Theatre to encourage a female perspective in their programming. Agniel says the Hive sponsors at least one event a month, including workshops, panels, group critiques, and collaborative exhibitions with local museums. Currently, the group’s main project is collaborating with the Providence Art Club for a statewide exhibition of female contemporary artists next spring.

  1. Open Corporates entry for the Hive Archive, founded 2001, captured June 19, 2021 from https://opencorporates.com/companies/us_ri/000118180 

  2. Wikipedia entry for “Gas Holder,” captured June 19, 2021 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_holder