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RISD Students! Send us photos of your dorm rooms and some of the fantastic views you must have of Downtown Providence.
Historic preservation of a former banking institution spawned a state-of-the-art library and a residential hall for 500 students. The Italian Renaissance-style banking hall in the RI Hospital Trust Bank Building was donated to RISD in 2002 by FleetBoston Financial Corporation. RISD was confronted with the challenge of adapting the spacious banking hall to serve as a functioning library to house its collection of art and design volumes, magazines, and multimedia resources. In addition to these resources, the library also includes space for group study areas, classrooms, a cafe, and administrative offices. The upper floors of the building were later acquired by RISD for use as a residence hall called 15 West.
RISD contracted with architectural design firm Office dA of Boston. The firm faced the task of integrating several diverse elements and features into 55,000 square feet of usable space, four times the size of the former library. The resulting design made 117,000 volumes accessible in the stacks.
“The opportunity to revitalize one of downtown Providence’s most beautiful buildings and incorporate it into our campus is very exciting,” said RISD President Roger Mandle in 2005. “Our library’s distinctive collection deserves the type of preservation and presentation this new facility will provide.” Add to that the energy and vibrancy of 500 upperclass and graduate students living on the floors above and the Fleet Library will captures the school at its best — open, accessible, vibrant and interactive.
“The cost of putting the library in there is about $200 per square foot; that’s a remarkable price,” Mandle went on to say. “[To build a new building with] architecture of that quality plus the furnishings, it would probably be $600 per square foot. You can’t build buildings like that anymore.”
The upper floors have been converted to student housing for the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) while the lower floor and former banking hall has become the Fleet Library at RISD. Photographs of the library interior after renovation are available on Flickr from Hassan Bagheri.
With a combination of old architecture and modern design, the library was named one of “The 50 Most Amazing University Libraries in the World,” released by BestMastersPrograms.org. Recognizing the library’s innovative and preservative use of the original space, the list lauded Fleet Library as “the oldest and most influential independent art library in the United States.” 1
For the history of the banking institution, RI Currency has a fantastic write up.
From the Downtown Providence Historic District nomination form, William McKenzie Woodward, 1983
Same as the write up below, written only two years earlier.
From “Downtown Providence: Statewide Historical Preservation Report P-P-5,” prepared by the RIHPHC, May 1981
15 Hospital Trust Building 1919: York and Sawyer of New York, architect, 11-story, stone-sheathed, steel-frame structure with U-shape plan and articulated in the base-shaft-capital format characteristic of early 20th-century tall buildings; smooth ashlar first story with imposing entrance porticoes, arched windows, and Corinthian pilasters surmounted by entablature with decorative frieze and modillions; “attic” second story with pilasters and stringcourse-entablature above; smooth ashlar punctuated only by pairs of regularly spaced windows on third through ninth stories; simple stringcourse above ninth story; regularly spaced single windows separated by 2-story ionic pilasters on tenth and eleventh stories; full entablature and classically derived balustrade above eleventh story; much of original interior detailing remains, including the lavish banking hall and lobby.
The building is connected on its west side with a modern 30-story tower built in 1974. Founded in 1867 to finance Rhode Island Hospital, the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company soon became a commercial banking institution as well, the first trust company in New England. In 1891, the company moved into a 6-story Romanesque structure at 15 Westminster Street, which was demolished for the construction of the present structure. In 1974, the company further expanded into the adjoining 30-story tower to the west. The Hospital Trust Building is a key landmark on lower Westminster Street because of its high architectural quality and as an important institution in Providence’s financial district.
“RISD library fuses modern style with old architecture,” Alison Silver, Brown Daily Herald, February 12, 2013. Captured June 18, 2021 from https://www.browndailyherald.com/2013/02/12/risd-library-fuses-modern-style-with-old-architecture/ ↩