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Proposed high rise disregards character of Gates Circle

By and large the most cherished American cities and individual neighborhoods are so valued because of the consistent architectural fabric they are made from.

This fabric need not be always traditional and classically inspired -- though most often, if it is loved, it is traditional.

Certain neighborhoods in New York City -- Times Square, for example -- display a "context" that is anything but classical. Times Square's particular appeal comes from the unity with which its exuberant contemporary architecture tries to be "unique." In its chaos of neon, it ironically has a certain harmony and so is loved by millions.

But far more often, great places display a unity which comes from a common scale of building form, consistently scaled individual building elements such as window proportion or rhythm of bays, and a common language of specific constructional detail.

In great places it seems each new building offers deference and respect to the architecture which came before it and, in so doing, reinforces and adds to the strong "sense of place" that great neighborhoods display.

Think of the coherence of the Upper West Side in New York City, the rhythm of the similarly grand homes on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, or even the unity of the Art Deco detail in South Beach. These are all very different places, all very much valued, and all displaying a harmony that is instantly recognized by people who have been there.

And that is why the high-rise currently planned for Gates Circle is so disturbing. It displays no such respect for the context in which it is sited.

Its form, materials, siting and height disregard in every way the architectural patterns surrounding it, and the original planning intent behind Gates Circle.

Incredibly, Uniland's website claims for the design a respect for the context and inspiration drawn from the neighboring church steeples.

That rationale is false in many ways, not least in that church steeples, as civic/religious structures marking a communal if not divine place, have an urbanistic and social reason to "rise above" the context of the surrounding domestic and mercantile architecture.

An apartment building has no such justification. The proposed tower at Gates Circle, by setting itself up as a "monument" towering over everything around it, is not just a visual affront to the abutters. It is a social slap in the face to all those who have the misfortune to live below it.

I urge those charged with reviewing and approving this building to look past Uniland's soothing words of "context" and "respect for the neighborhood" and "inspiration" drawn from church steeples and trust their own eyes.

This building is wrong for this place.

Donald W. Powers, president of Donald Powers Architects in Providence, R.I. is an authority on new urbanism. At the request of area residents, he provided an independent review of the project.

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