The beginning of a new period in the lives of travelers in Providence, RI, commenced with the construction of a new train station in a new location in June of 1986. As the old structure, known as Union Station, entered the retail, real estate and restaurant world, the erection of a new building began across the street from the capitol building. The third central train depot in the history of Providence took on a new look and a new approach to travel by rail.
Providence was the first city between Boston and Washington, the most traveled rail route in the nation, to build a new train station in the center of the city since the 1930s. The architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, based out of New York City, designed the $23.5 million project while the local Gilbane Building Company completed the task of general contracting for the railroad relocation and renovation phases. Setbacks in the grand opening of the Providence Station arose from engineering difficulties and increased the price of the structure by over one million dollars. The Federal Railroad Administration and Capitol Properties took on the burden of the cost for the station and garage, respectively.
The initial programmatic aspects of the new station included two high-speed tracks, lines to accommodate freight trains, a commuter track, and an attached 360-space parking garage. Limestone facing on all exterior facades reflected the facades of the nearby State House. The stainless steel dome also contributed to the attempts at fulfilling a relationship with the famous cupola of the State House. The geometric progression of exterior forms includes rectangular solids and cylinders that culminate in the trapezoidal solid of the functioning clock tower. The southeastern façade of the station looks out over a plaza-like space complete in concrete matching the texture and color of the limestone facing. This space covers the entrance to the parking garage and is utilized for the picking up and dropping off of passengers.
The interior space of the station sheds a modern light on the train station of past years in Providence and other buildings within the city. The elaborate marble work of the flooring can be found in City Hall and in the State House. Wooden benches and traditional ticket sales counters remind passengers of the historicism of the railways in America. The controversial final piece of the project defines the program and intent of the station in an inscription in the marble floor:
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.
I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.
–Robert Louis Stevenson
Garland, Russell, "Great Words but Wrong Ones", Providence Journal: Mar 23, 1987; A3.
Garland, Russell and Dykas, Lee, "An Era Ends...", Providence Journal: Jun 17, 1986; A12.
Murphy, Jim. "The Providence Connection: Providence Station, Providence, R.I.," Progressive Architecture 68 no.3 (March 1987): 92-95.