The past. present. future. studio encourages students to explore the relationships between preservation and design and to develop critical proposals that allow historic buildings to evolve into the future. This project presented the opportunity to explore the concept of time in architecture through the understanding of the past, the present, and the future possibilities for the buildings site, its society, technologies, and programmatic functions.
During the project’s first stage, three decisions were made. First, we wanted to deal with the pre-existing conditions of the site and building as a way of dealing with the recent past and the current existing fabric of the building and the city. Second, we elected to study the history and meaning of the place, its embedded memories, stories, and the changes it underwent over time. Third, we felt it was important to look at the buildings current use, the present-day social and urban issues, and in particular the new trends of cinema, event and performance spaces. All three stages combined gave us insight to the generations, technology, society, art and architecture preferences that constituted the Jane Pickens Theater and Event Space’s construction and legacy. As we thought through the change together, it felt like we were traveling through time and space.
This time-based approach enabled alternative thinking for additional programs and new design interventions while broadening the discourse about historic buildings, issues on preservation, and how new contemporary design relate to historic structures in general. Further, this approach helped our team understand that all architecture lives through constant change either in the form of deterioration, maintenance and repair, or in the form of interventions, additions, subtractions, and transformations to ever-new variations.
Design, architecture and historic preservation are not necessary seen together or combined. How do we join a creative field of investigation, an art form at odds with change, and a field seen as a keeper of collective memory and historical identity?
We experience in our professional fields and the society at large a strong resistance to change. Residents in historic places like Newport are justly proud of and attached to the historic fabric of the city. Unfortunately these buildings and structures too often fail to sustain the functional needs of their owners and communities.
Working with local organizations, a Newport host committee, the owner and friends of the Jane Pickens Theater and Event Center, guest critics, and the van Buren Charitable Foundation, the students and faculty of the Department of Interior Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design developed an inventive approach to adaptive reuse through a dialogue between people and their surrounding environment. We engaged constituents in understanding that adaptive reuse is a creative process that frees existing architecture from the rigidity of historic preservation and the improvident nature of demolition through the creative process of change over time.
Through investigations of the building and site, its history, stories, and the social-economic issues, students underwent a journey to uncover the building’s potential and hidden moments. While every student respected the building’s history as a space for the community—
beginning with its original function as church, then theater and cinema, and currently as an art house cinema and event center—they took very different approaches with interventions and with additional program.
The studio group used the building as a canvas. They explored keeping, removing, and shifting elements of the building as well as adding on, cutting out, recomposing, and “leaving as is”.
The first assignment focused on the creation of an art intervention using intervention strategy. The studio group investigated the physical,
functional, intellectual, cultural, and institutional character of the locales, which included the current building and site of the Jane Pickens—along with its history, memories, and stories.
Our first investigations on the building’s history and present fabric were explored without architectural parameters of economy, structure, building codes, issues of building preservation, or any other usual design considerations. This assignment charged students to not only reflect on notions of time, space, and society, but to engage
with the building’s history, the many layers of past interventions, contemporary concepts of movie and film, the city of Newport, its current population, and the building’s relationship to Washington Park.
Starting questions for this assignment were:
-What relationships exist between the former church, the theater, and the current cinema?
-In what ways can you articulate your interventions?
-What do you use to define a relationship, a separation, or a contrast?
-How do modifications change the meaning of the original?
-How do you make transitions to other objects?
-How do you deal with hidden or missing historic elements?
-How do you investigate forms of change, such as to transform, appropriate, intervene, renovate, express, remodel, alter, adjust, amend, maintain, etc.
The second assignment asked students to research, identify, and develop a programmatic idea, a program concept and a business model that furthers and continues the Jane Pickens’ social and cultural
relationships with the city and community.
Students also had to show how their additional program enhances the Jane Pickens’ economic potential, allowing it to continue as a cultural and community center for future generations. Working with the theater’s owners and the Jane Pickens Friends group, students studied the theater’s current business structure, the Friends group’s mission statement, and brainstormed ways to expand the building’s commercial uses through their innovative designs.