When Will an Example of Architecture Die?
When will an example of architecture die? On the day it is demolished? The day people don't use it anymore? Or the day people forget it like some undiscovered pyramids hiding in the deep forest? There might not be a specific answer, but people could regard architecture as a memory container which represents the human behaviors, social activities, historical events throughout its time. In this project, the smallest building in downtown Providence will be transformed into a capsule hotel, going against its destiny of being dismantled and preserve memories for the public.
This site is a tiny double floor masonry structure located at 66 Fountain Street, with the longitudinal facade facing Fountain Street and an empty parking lot behind the structure. It was built in 1915, maybe as a sketch building purpose which means to test a similar form and smaller scale, for a tall building near it. That means it doesn't have a mature concept just being a victim of architecture experiment. There once was a "Coffee King" on the first floor, and "Dunkin Donut" earlier, both provided widely available snacks without specific characteristics. Why should we preserve a commonplace building or how could we discover the unique value throughout this building life？ The answer may be hidden in the historical existence of this building.
In a 1937 map of downtown Providence, this structure was a part of the unified buildings named Washington Building consisting of commercial and non-commercial businesses situated between Clemence Street and Mathews Street. Surrounding buildings changed in the 1960s, half of this rectangle building became a parking lot, which means the right sections of buildings were removed, only the left side and this building maintained an "L" shape. The parking lot invaded the entire block in the 1990s and only this building survived to become a witness of the block history as a memory container.
A direct summary of the map is the block pattern period, as a part of the city texture, which documents the process of architectural transformation over time. By comparing the block patterns from the 1930s to today, a gradually deteriorating process reveals that only this small structure survived from being demolished. But today, we can't find any relic of the surrounding buildings. The footprints were sealed under a flat asphalt parking lot, just like other intentional and unintentional erasures that never preserve the former architecture's information. People have cemeteries but architectures don't, only some valuable architectures can be preserved or reused for the immortal purpose. As for the mass characterless example of architectures that have disappeared in history, architectural spiritualism can build a bridge between past and present, to create a dialogue across time.
In this project, spiritualism is not a mystic rite, it is about how to interject a memory, a spirit into the existing structures without occupying too much space. The 66 fountain street footprint is about 15'X40' dimensions, keeping the similar length-width ratio of the site block. So I grafted the 1930s block pattern onto the first-floor ground level, as a passive evidence that preserves the history information in a miniature scale. The pattern is a solid grid structure under the glass floor covering the ground level that people walk on. The names of old buildings of the block were printed on the corresponding glass. This floor intervention refers to some archeology relics exhibition methods in the museum and brings it to the normal architecture. Next, pillars protrude from the joints of the grid structure to the second floor, because the underground structure doesn't show the vertical height of the surrounding buildings. Using small glass rooms to represent the volume of the old buildings would be more precise but it also causes congestions in this tiny space. Another deeper meaning of the pillars is they keep the trunk-like feature, like the survivors of a decayed forest, the bones of former buildings, the boundary of invisible volume. Pillars array in different heights, some pillars support the live load above, some have artificial lights at the end.
In conclusion, spiritualism on the first floor is a reinterpretation of the 1930s block layout, it transforms the historical memory into a spatial structure without too much occupied space, as an archeological preservation we use for valuable relics. Through this process, I would like to show respect to the past and let the past revalue our current works. That is why people should learn from history and why people should keep history.
The small volume of this host structure creates a sense of emotional ennui when people come in. By minimizing the occupied space and adding poetical pillars into the first floor, this subdued feeling converts to the memorial sense of 1930s history. But the second-floor transformation should consider some practical use value, rather than as white space.
Quoting from the definition in Wikipedia:"The capsule hotel, also known as a pod hotel, is a type of hotel developed in Japan that features a large number of extremely small "rooms" (capsules) intended to provide cheap, basic overnight accommodation for guests......"
The existing conventional hotels in downtown Providence are expensive and boring. People pay for luxury ornamentation and thoughtful service. Sometimes they also pay for the beautiful scenes framed in their windows. Hotels like to imitate a home atmosphere and the true dialogue between where they are and when they are has never existed. The capsule hotel is a product from the financial crisis of Japan, as well as a living machine. It reduces all the decorations and functions to a fundamental level in a narrow space, that people could clearly realize where they are. The aloneness, the calm, the momentarily disappointed feeling when people occupy in the smallest room in the smallest building of downtown Providence, is the history that 66 Fountain Street has experienced. So the capsule hotel is a compatible platform that combines the subjective emotional experience and objective history together in Providence downtown context. It holds out for us the real possibility for a pragmatic description of historical emergence which reveals why this transformation, institution or configuration here, in this place, at this time.
As for the second-floor plan, grafting the logic of the 1960s block layout, generates two contradictory spatial senses containing solid and empty. Because the right section of Washington Building was removed and replaced by an empty parking lot in the 1960s, the coherent space in the second-floor plan becomes as a public space which is the stairs, corridor, and balcony. There are four solid rooms arrayed in the left side of second-floor with a notched space in the middle, which reinterprets the left sections of the 1960s Washington Building. These four rooms, including two capsule bedrooms and two bathrooms, constitute the functional space in this project and generate some implicit values when people are using them.The first spatial experience of the capsule bedroom is cramped, but not uncomfortable. Only several types of furniture are provided in the small room. By using smooth rounded edges night table and soft cushion bed, this hotel is committed to providing a restful sleep environment. Normally the bed is folded and clings to the wall automatically, to save extra space when people don’t need to sit or lie down. The feeling when people sit on the bed and look out of the window may be a little aloneness, because the window frames extrude into two feet length, as a tunnel to the outside that only focuses on a small visual angle city scene. On the one hand, the window forces people to see the reality in a limited way from the inside-out perspective, like the way we cognize history. On the other hand, five windows painted in red color extruding out of the facade also become an iconic feature of the transformation, keeping an outside-in perception of the configuration. The square gap between two capsule bedrooms, as a public space, also represents the footprint of an unknown building which disappeared from the 1960s map. The second floor and the roof are perforated by this square shape and covered by glass panels to absorb sunlight in here. This poetic "tunnel" is an interactive space of people and light that brings more changeable possibilities of the spatial experience.
After a critical reflection of the dead buildings and the history, what we should preserve and interpret into the existing structure is widely preferred. As for me, the original structure resembles a memory container that restrains the capsule hotel inside it which transforms the history into a pragmatic form. Coincidentally, the day I finished this studio project is the day that 66 fountain street block started to be dismantled. Therefore I would like to end my statement by quoting the famous monologue by Rutger Hauer in the film BLLADE RUNNER: “ I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”