Skydiving park? Indoor farm? RISD students reimagine the Superman Building – The Providence Journal

Students at Rhode Island School of Design came up with some imaginative uses for the vacant Industrial Trust building, commonly known as the Superman Building, which has been designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the 11 most endangered places in the country.

PROVIDENCE — Over the years, developers have proposed refurbishing the former Industrial Trust headquarters, also known as the Superman Building, for office space or apartments.

But it’s not likely many people have pictured the 26-story tower one day serving as an indoor skydiving park, or as a center for high-tech science laboratories.

On Thursday, students with the Rhode Island School of Design’s Master of Arts in Adaptive Reuse program presented via Zoom their innovative ideas for redesigning the Superman Building.

One student, Hongjia Zhou, proposed turning the tower into a year-round tourist attraction for thrill-seekers. Zhou’s design would utilize the building’s four corner towers for various vertical activities, such as rock climbing, bungee jumping and skydiving.

Another student, Michele Katora, proposed turning the building into a life science and biotech innovation center with modular labs that could shift within the tower depending on the changing needs of the industry.

“I think we were just trying to show what’s possible,” said Liliane Wong, one of the program’s professors. “I very much enjoyed the fact that there were seven completely different ideas.”

The Superman Building, owned by High Rock Westminster Street LLC, has been vacant since its last tenant, Bank of America, left in 2013. Last year, the Art Deco tower landed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the 11 most endangered places in the country.

Other concepts presented Thursday included a vertical hydroponic urban farm; an incubator-style performing arts center; a housing complex designed for millennials; an indoor children’s activity space in partnership with Hasbro; and a living community for the elderly with indoor green spaces. More information on the projects can be found at: https://risdsuperman.cargo.site/Home-Set.

While some of the students’ ideas may not be realistic, they show the versatility of the building that has graced Providence’s skyline since 1928, said Brent Runyon, executive director of the Providence Preservation Society.

“I think stimulating creativity, keeping it on people’s minds, reaffirming the potential in the building, fighting back against that idea about the demolition of the building being the only solution, all of those things are really important,” he said.

Wong said she hopes the students’ projects will help keep up the momentum to find a new use for the beloved structure.

“I think we would really just like to bring attention to the fact that Superman is sitting there,” she said. “It’s not something to be demolished. I think that those of us who love the building have always claimed that it’s an icon in the city and a historic part of the city. It’s in reasonable shape, and it should be reused.”

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