The Southlight project teamed a multidisciplinary group of RISD students and faculty with key community stakeholder groups to design and construct a transformational performance pavilion and public garden for a rebounding South Providence neighborhood in need of safe, welcoming public spaces. Through a year-long planning, design, and construction process, students gained leadership experience in all aspects of a community-engaged project. From pre-design community outreach to design charrettes to community build days, students from Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Sculpture were at the forefront of an intensive, multiphase civic project that will provide a lasting contribution to the urban realm.
The design consists of three major elements that make better use of the cultural center’s oversized parking lot while creating a stronger civic presence for the center and its tenants. A new lawn and landscape was cut across the parking lot, mitigating stormwater runoff while connecting bordering streets and creating an active public space for the neighborhood to enjoy. A cedar fence and signage at both ends of the site announce the building, its tenants, and its cultural programming to the neighborhood at large. The centerpiece of the design is a three-season public pavilion - a flexible space that opens on all sides and creates a beacon within the neighborhood both day and night.
The Southlight pavilion is a luminous, flexible space that opens in all directions using twenty-four monumental swing doors. The 25’ x 50’ space is constructed from a greenhouse kit in which small modifications were made to the structure and facade to transform an economical, pre-engineered shed into a building with civic presence. The standard gable truss of the greenhouse was inverted to reduce the pitch of the roof, and standard galvanized steel profiles were combined with a tongue-and-groove translucent polycarbonate cladding to give the facade a more monolithic appearance during the day, and an uninterrupted luminous glow by night.
The openness of the pavilion allows it to be used for many different types of events. On a given night, traditional theater, in-the-round storytelling, folkloric dance, or improv comedy might be performed, requiring rapid reconfiguration of seating, lighting, and stage elements. For larger events, the lawn or adjacent paved areas might be used as spillover seating, or the pavilion itself might become the backdrop for a performance or a cinematic projection surface. In addition to serving the needs of the resident performance groups, the project may serve as a neighborhood venue for weddings, potlucks, farmer’s markets, and other events, allowing SCCRI to both expand its programming and generate rental revenue for long-term viability.
The 10,000 square foot garden serves simultaneously as public space, event venue, storm water mitigation, and educational tool. A generous lawn stretches out on both sides of the pavilion, creating spillover space for large events and a pleasant environment for public use when the pavilion is closed. The rain garden at the north end collects runoff from the parking lot, as well as an attractive backdrop to the pavilion itself. The gardens facing Bridgham Street feature drought-tolerant, native plantings that provide a low-maintenance but lush entrance from the adjacent public way. Paved and gravel paths cut across the space, creating multiple trajectories through the urban garden.
On both street fronts, a custom-milled cedar batten fence with painted signage creates new visibility for SCCRI. Large scale vinyl banners were designed and attached to the existing building to create an augmented street presence, and to announce the institution and its tenant organizations to the neighborhood. The pavilion itself likewise acts as a beacon to the neighborhood, both through its civic scale and the integration of a timed, energy efficient lighting installation that allows it to glow throughout the night.