Vertical Courtyard

Healing Facility Rejuvenation

//// RISD 2015 Fall Core Studio
//// Site / Providence Center / 528 North Main St, Providence, RI
//// Instructors / Pari Riahi / Peter Yeadon


The Providence Center is a mental health institution whose mission is “to help people affected by psychiatric illnesses, emotional problems and addictions by providing treatment and supportive services within a community setting”. Through over 40 programs and wraparound services, including food and housing, job training, legal services, primary health care and wellness activities, The Providence Center is committed to meeting the community’s needs.

Historically, the building facility had been through several alterations. It had long been used as a screw factories since the 19th century. After the screw company left Providence in 1950s, the building was divided for the needs of various tenants, and the mill complex gradually fell into disrepair. Up until the 70s,  Rhode Island Group Health Association (RIGHA) took over the hundred year old structure and had it renovated to fulfill the modern needs. The general restoration set a tone to the usage afterwards, which turned out to be the predecessor of the Providence Center.



left / Uphill west elevation of The Moshassuck Arcade after the general restoration in 1970s

right / Former condition of the 4th floor before the 1970s renovation


After decades of development, the Providence Center has become the largest provider of behavioral health care services in the state of Rhode Island. Facing the predicament of limited resource and available spaces, yet the client body is continuously expanding, the object of this project is to offering the center significant opportunities for improving the Center noticeably for the better, so it can serve its mission more effectively.


PHASE I / Preliminary Study of Spatial Attributes and Well-being

Many can be refered as precedents which attribute to active intervention for well-being spaces. Early example can be traced to Le Corbusier’s Quartiers Modernes Frugès in the 1920s, in which the inhabitants modified the space that architects pre-defined. Later examples, like Torre Daicd in Venezuela, and Quita Monroy Housing in Chile, intentionally or unitentionally, offered possiblities to be adapted. Such interesting contradiction raised a question that has been discussing for decades: what role architects ought to play to get engaged into complicated human needs.


Precedent: Iwan Baan / Torre David: informal settlement in a vertical slum

Quinta Monroy Housing

Precedent: ELEMENTAL / Quinta Monroy Housing

PHASE II / Analysis on the Existing

The intervention begins at a thorough investigation into the existing. The densely and inconstantly placed column grid separates programs into small enclosed rooms. Also due to the high-security protocols, badge check points are used as thresholds that eliminated the potential to create a easy-access circulation for the patients.

The above diagrams depicted a functioning building of the existing in a typical patient’s eyes. Nearly half of the square footage is not directly served for patients, also the circulation are largely overlapped.


Existing Function Distribution and Circulation

left / Function distribution of the existing

right / Existing Circulation of typical target clients


PHASE III / Architectural Adaptation

The main architectural adaptation is three-fold:

Keeping the existing program hierarchy, yet reorganize the function distribution: chop off the footage for administration and create a open-space office on the fourth floor. Assemble programs alike to create easy-to-get circulation.

By taking advantage of the existing staircases, enlarge the shafts or make cutting off on the slab, in order to introduce skylight into the “transition area” and improve the lighting condition.

Take advantage of the vacant lot at the west side and create a vertical inner yard for well-being, also achieve a continuous facade from the main facade.

Transition of Threshold

Providence Center Sections

PHASE IX / Interior intervention

More attention was paid on the interior for the later half of this project. We zoomed into a section of the building that pivoting as thresholds between privacy and public. To break the enclosure formed by the solid partitions on such “transition areas”, the solid thresholds are softened, and resolved into an attribute of in-between, and thus ended up with built-in, multi-functional furnitures. By converting the attribute of partition, a further subdivided hierarchy of privacy formed, which could be accommodated with complicated needs of the clients.

Providence Center Interior Intervention