UNIFYING THE CAMPUS
Unifying the entire campus - the east campus, the main campus, and the academic quad - is a primary goal of the master plan. This will be done through visual and physical connections and a consistent design vocabulary. If successful, future students will experience a dramatically different campus than today's. Entrances onto campus will embody the best of the New England landscape, and will provide clear direction to campus destinations. Attractive secondary roads will access parking lots edged by trees and softened by landscaped islands. By organizing the campus precincts around outdoor "rooms" the College will feel like a smaller, more cohesive community. These "islands of sociability" will be particularly valuable to commuters who are only able to spend limited time on the campus. Linking these spaces together and to nearby parking lots with clear pathways will strengthen the identity of the College as a memorable institutional whole. To reinforce a unified setting for pedestrians, cars will be excluded from the core campus and directed to landscaped parking lots at the periphery.
Through incremental improvements over ten years Rhode Island College could be transformed. The existing conditions pose a number of challenges, all of which will need to be addressed.
The move to the western suburbs in 1958 allowed
for the enlargement of Rhode Island College as it took on a new and expanded
mission. With the move the College gained much needed room for expansion
and a semi-rural setting with woods and open space surrounding the campus.
Forty years later buildings, parking lots, and athletic fields now occupy
much of the available space. Though new construction is not anticipated,
expansion space is very limited. The once rural setting has been filled
in with suburban development making the fringe of woodlands framing the
campus an important asset. The remote setting several miles from the city
center and set back from major public roads has made it difficult to establish
a public face for the school. The approaches and entries fail to adequately
establish a campus identity.
Main Campus: The woodland edge to the campus creates the illusion of a setting more rural than suburban. This illusion is lost along the northern edge of the athletic fields where suburban development is clearly visible. There is no clear landscape distinction between the core campus and the other portions of the campus - the athletic fields, the residential area, East Campus.
Trees planted in the 1950s now tower over the low buildings creating an arboretum quality. Because these mature trees are the same age campus tree cover will be lost in time without an ongoing replanting program. The placement of these existing trees does not always contribute toward the shaping of open spaces. Some trees block important orienting views and interrupt potentially strong "quadrangle" spaces.
Much of the Main Campus was designed and built in the 1950s and 60s and its layout and architectural style is characteristic of that period. With the exception of the recently completed Mall, formal quadrangles have been avoided in the campus layout in favor of more neutral spaces that flow one into the other. Low rectangular buildings are arranged in an open orthogonal pattern. The buildings themselves are somewhat neutral in appearance with little outward expression of what may be housed in each structure. Because of this horticulture plays an important role in enriching the campus environment.
Buildings such as the Athletic Complex and the new Performing Arts Center have broken from the "late modern" style in recent years adding welcome variety to the campus setting. Playful massing and richer materials characterize these recent additions.
The Mall, completed in 1996, has provided an important central focus to the campus, but is hidden from visitors or students arriving by car. Buildings a short distance from the Mall such as the Fogarty Life Science building or Horace Mann Hall, feel unconnected to the center. Adjacent parts of the main campus currently feel quite separate from one another-to the point that students often drive from one part of the campus to another rather than walk.
Residential Quadrangle: A group of five residential dormitories are located south of College Road and feel somewhat separated from the Mall and the rest of campus. Though the dormitories are loosely arranged along a walkway there is no well-defined central space that provides a focus for a residential community. Thorp and Sweet face outward onto College Road and fail to reinforce the residential quad. Future additions and new secondary entrances to these two dorms could correct this. Willard Residential Hall with its low scale and institutional appearance fails to create an attractive residential campus setting. The eventual replacement of Willard with an attractive new dormitory could reshape the residential quadrangle into a far more attractive and functional space and provide a focal point at a point further from College Road.
East Campus: The College's more intensive use of the East Campus only highlights the fact that it is physically, and in the perception of students and faculty, quite separate from the rest of the College. This sense of removal is due in large measure to the sea of parking, the poorly drained fields, and the maintenance facility that lay between the two campus districts. There are no clearly defined pathways crossing "the pit". East Campus is on higher ground and has the most interesting topography on campus - an underutilized asset. The architecture of East Campus is different in style and siting from main campus buildings. The Forman Center, a handsome stone farmhouse that crowns the hill near the entry drive, provides a focal point and "anchor" for East Campus. It has become the College's landmark building and has been carefully restored in recent years.
Just north of the Forman Center, and in marked contrast to the smaller structures around it, the massive Recreation Center claims the highest ground on campus. The lack of landscaping and surrounding parking lots accentuate its size. At night the Recreation center is a beacon easily seen from a distance over the flat roofs of the former state buildings. It dominates its surroundings.
Nine smaller residential-scale structures line the edge of east campus. They are set at an angle to the grid of the central campus. Several are set into the slope with their narrow ends facing the main campus like boats on a wave. The similarity of these five buildings create confusion about which building is which. The small courtyards in-between these buildings suggest a special landscape treatment and a pairing of structures. The more informal layout and the variety of architectural scales and materials on East Campus suggest a different, perhaps less structured, landscape treatment than the central campus.
Of the two campus entrances onto to College Road, Mt. Pleasant and Fruit Hill, the former is the most heavily used - 57% over 43%. The length of College Road - the first turn off is 1000' feet back from Mt. Pleasant Avenue and the second 1800' -- and its straight alignment could in its present form be seen as a liability. This length, however, provides a valuable opportunity to establish a strong campus image before visitors turn off to their final destination.
Poor sight lines and a campus sign buried in evergreens cause first time visitors to miss the Mt. Pleasant turnoff entirely on occasion. The visible presence of a state-run group home, College Park Apartments, to the right of College Road is confusing to first time visitors who assume it is part of the campus. A handsome old estate gate further north on Mt. Pleasant might be used for an alternative access drive to this facility.
College Road is indistinguishable from other small-scale suburban streets in the area. After the turn at the Mt. Pleasant street entrance sign the lack of campus buildings or a maintained landscape edge is disappointing. The entry road crests at the first turnoff a thousand feet up the road yet there are still no views of a campus. Rock outcroppings covered with various Greek symbols is the only sign of campus life at this point. The handsome Forman Center just up the road to the right is screened from view. A continuous wooded edge screens potential views to the south across a golf course towards downtown Providence. A large elevated parking lot to the north is the first sign of the campus as one proceeds west on College Road. A handsome stand of pine trees marks the second turn off from College Road but screens from view Roberts Hall- the destination for many first time visitors. Because of the lack of visual cues drivers must rely on signage to find their way onto and around campus. (see signage section). The Fruit Hill Avenue approach, though less used, is more legible and attractive than the Mt. Pleasant Avenue approach. It too lacks a clear arrival sequence, however. The large parking lots to the east and west of the central campus dominate the image of the campus as one approaches from either direction. In summary, College Road fails to establish itself as the front door to the campus and instead has the appearance of a local roadway passing by the campus. (see Traffic and Parking for technical assessment)
ROADWAYS AND PARKING
The internal roadway system is confusing. Library Road lacks a clear identity as a major loop road around campus. The parking that lines much of it is disorganized, unattractive, and unsafe particularly for pedestrians. Drivers move through a continuous parking lot when driving Library Road. The alignment of the loop road with its right angles jogs further slows down traffic. The one way system is inflexible and concentrates traffic at only one intersection. There is no clear vehicular access between central and East Campus. Two dead-end roadways serve East Campus. Again these roadways lack clear landscaped edges or even curbs along some stretches and are dominated by parked cars.
The tree-lined room-like parking lots near Roberts Hall provide a good model for future parking lots at Rhode Island College. The large parking lots at the east and west end of campus and by the residential dorms have a vast and unsafe feeling, especially at night. The access roadways that pass through them lack any landscaping which would serve to scale down these oversized lots.
With the exception of the Mall there is little hierarchy of pedestrian paths on campus and crucial links are weak or missing entirely. The weakest links include the following:
The residential quad to the Mall: A woodland and parking lot separate the residential district from the main campus. There are no clear and direct pedestrian paths between the residential area and east campus.
The Mall east to the Roberts Hall and the Performing Arts Complex: Craig Lee Hall forms a barrier to east/west pedestrian movement
The central campus to East Campus: The vast parking lot forms a desolate barrier between Central and East Campuses. A fence along the east side of parking lot B frustrates pedestrian movement.
The outlying parking areas to the campus center: The expansive parking lots at the edges of campus are perceived as unsafe and remote. Landscaped walkways linking the parking areas to the pedestrian precincts are entirely missing.
The following is a summary list of recommendations to accompany the site plan.
MT. PLEASANT ENTRY
THE CAMPUS CONNECTOR (see focus area)
LIBRARY ROAD (see traffic and parking)
STUDENT UNION ENTRANCE (see focus areas)
RESIDENTIAL QUAD (see focus areas)
PARKING LOT K (see focus areas)
HENNESSEY AVENUE SERVICE AREA (see focus areas)
Taken together these improvements would transform
Rhode Island College into one of the most attractive colleges of its size
in the state. See focus areas for cost estimates and descriptions of specific