James Carpenter Design with Inlet, Tillotson Design Associates and Studio Unseen Light developed a vision in response to Providence, Rhode Island’s call for ideas addressing the Crook Point Bascule Bridge.
CROOK POINT CIRCLES: A CONNECTIVE JOURNEY
JCDA’s vision engaged with a broad vision of the site for community and leisure defined by the Seekonk River as a possessor of its cultural and ecological history and future.
In addressing this site, the Seekonk River estuary and its environs, this proposal sought to reconcile the intensity of its industrial heritage with the potential for reclaiming and renewing its rich ecology. This proposal sought to celebrate the confluence of these contexts, bringing people closer to nature by strategically embracing the remaining fragments of the rail and bridge infrastructure. The structures act as a foil to the diurnal and seasonal rhythms unfolding on the land, over the water and in the air, highlighting daily tidal fluctuations of the river, the changing tree foliage and bird migration patterns, all providing a constant engagement with the landscape. Our proposal embraced a language of ‘Circles’, linking landscape and shoreline in a sequence of flexible landscape rooms, connecting nearby residents and the larger community, offering all with a sense of recurring discovery with each visit.
SITE & DIVERSITY
Preserving the site’s sports fields and community garden, our proposal established circulation connecting these existing community anchors to the languishing infrastructural artifacts: the abandoned East Side Railroad Tunnel entrance; the decommissioned Crook Point Bascule Bridge; and the remnants of railway tracks. This proposed circulation journey also connects to the site’s intersecting corridors through the immediate neighborhoods of Fox Point, Wayland Square, the wider urban corridor of the Blackstone River Greenway, the East Bay Bike Path and connections to East Providence, all creating a rich engagement to enjoy this remarkable yet overlooked corner of the City.
A JOURNEY LINKING PLACES
There is no proscribed way to explore these Circles, each has its own uniqueness yet each invite one to explore its neighbor. Our proposal emphasizes the Bascule Bridge as the ‘center-point’, a destination that articulates its broader connections linked by the implied presence of the tracks. We see the Bascule Bridge as the magnet that can draw the broadly diverse communities and the wider communities of the region to this place and connect them to its rich tidal river ecology, an extraordinarily complex and beautiful environment, that once restored, will become an invaluable place promoting gathering, discussion, play and study. As the central attraction, the Bascule bridge will stand out at night with its rich but low intensity, ferrous-red lighting, evoking the bridge’s materiality and structure. In contrast, the circles use lighting that evokes moonlight and starlight, with each circle also delineated along its edge to create a powerfully unified sense of the site. The lighting is designed to create a sense of wonder without interfering with the sky nor the ecological processes adversely affected by light pollution.
Welcoming and quietly lit, highly visible and safe, the linked Circles might be thought of as an ‘Emerald Necklace’ if you will, reimagined not as a bucolic landscape but as an authentic, post-industrial ecology. Furthest to the west and abutting Gano Street, the ‘Performance Circle’ repurposes the East Side Tunnel Portal as a stage and circular amphitheater; walking east through the woods, one discovers a Forest Walk as a chain of ‘Play Circles’ comprised of small, interlocked playgrounds suitable for children of various ages. These links lead to the ‘Community Circle’ the largest clearing framed by native plantings, an open, flexible space which links directly to the east with the ‘Welcoming Circle’ at the shoreline. The ‘Welcoming Circle’ is where many will enter the site’s circulation, either heading west to meet others in the ‘Community Circle’, explore the playgrounds or see a performance, or heading east to explore the bridge infrastructure and views of East Providence across the Seekonk. Heading toward the Bascule Bridge, visitors can either descend onto the ‘Shoreline Circle’ which leads them down to the shoreline and outwards to explore the Seekonk River’s revived ecology on a floating galvanized platform nested against the bridge abutment. Bearing witness to the ecology reclaiming its place, this intimate experience of the river and its fluctuations, reveals the return of diverse aquatic life. We see the restoration of this ecology as primary to this proposal.
Back on the shoreline the railroad track is visible, moving from the stone abutment out to the bridge sitting upon its piers, On the bridge itself, a simple galvanized walkway following the presence of the remnant tracks, leads one out to the Bascule mechanism. Diverging from this center point and bringing the visitor down to the height of the stone piers is the cantilevered ‘Bascule Circle’, a simple galvanized structure, which takes visitors out to and just above the wooden boat walls marking the navigation channel. This circle, affording intimate views of the Bascule bridge itself, provides views south to the Bay and views north up the Seekonk River towards the Slater Mill and the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Park, contextualizing the importance of the Crook Point Bascule Bridge, not simply as an industrial artifact of its time, but as the Gateway to the birthplace of the First American Industrial Revolution.
Connecting this site to East Providence, and its historical link via the bridge, visitors can see the ‘Treetop Circle’ across the river. Accessible by foot or bicycle via the Washington Bridge to the south or Henderson Bridge to the north, or by kayak or canoe, the ‘Treetop Circle’ sitting above the abandoned tracks as they diverge off to the north and south along the east banks of the river, connects visitors to the specific ecology of the tree canopy, to birdwatching and to views to the severed train line. This break in the physical connection metaphorically references the historic significance of this place – the very point from which the colonialist Founders of Providence first crossed the Seekonk and met with the Wampanoag and Narrangansett. This is a place of great importance requiring care and reflection.
A PLACE FOR ALL
The boldest graffiti emblazoned upon the Bascule structure is ‘DECOLONIZATION’, a testament to the need to have this project address the issues of equity and reconciliation. This fundamental issue can be addressed in a meaningful way by bringing together the concerned communities, meaning both the immediate local communities and those communities that have been driven from this place - the displaced indigenous peoples. We believe that the careful restoration of the estuary shoreline and woodlands, eliminating invasive species and foregrounding indigenous plants and trees would celebrate the richness of this past. One might better associate our proposed Circles with the rich cultivated clearings bearing in abundance the ‘three sisters’ of the Wampanoag and Narrangansett as seen by the first colonialists, the earlier manifestation of community gardens on this site.
Providence as the ‘Creative Capitol’ must mean that creativity deals with not just the visual but the societal issues that confront us at this moment in time. Our proposal sought to address the physical and aesthetic issues necessary to transform this context and address deeper societal issues which are historically embedded within this site, both distant past and contemporary, to make a place of celebration for all.