July 1, 2011
Serving Up a Better City
Johnson & Wales nourishes Providence with its LEED Gold culinary center.
Tsoi/Kobus & Associates
Cuisinart Center for Culinary Excellence
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Johnson & Wales University has a delicious influence on the cities where it places campuses. From Denver, Colorado, to Charlotte, North Carolina, students in its culinary-arts program fatten up the staffs at local restaurants, often sticking around after graduation to start their own. That’s especially true in the school’s hometown of Providence, host to some 3,300 chefs-in-training at the 82,000-square-foot Cuisinart Center for Culinary Excellence, which earned LEED Gold certification in March.
Providence alums have made their mark with XO Steakhouse (1997), Nick’s on Broadway (2001), and Bacaro (2007), to name just a few standouts in the dining landscape that Travel + Leisure readers last year dubbed America’s third best. “In the past three years, the amount of inquiries we get from visitors and the media about Providence’s culinary scene has just exploded,” says Kristen Adamo, the vice president of marketing and communications for the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. “A lot of that credit goes to Johnson & Wales.”
But all those hungry travelers may not know that the school has also had a significant physical impact on Providence, starting in the 1990s, when it chose to maintain its downtown campus in the still-gritty city rather than head for the suburbs like so many other businesses. That commitment continues with the ongoing rehabilitation of 67 acres of former industrial land on Narragansett Bay now known as the Harborside Campus. The school gave the area new life during the past decade, but classes were still held in a World War II–era structure.
“As the program grew from 2,500 students to almost 3,500 in the last six years, it put tremendous pressure on that building,” says Johnson & Wales dean Kevin Duffy. Boston-based Tsoi/Kobus & Associates was tasked with turning a faculty parking lot into a state-of-the-art student hub, all the more challenging because the site’s flood-zone location required a 12-foot elevation. Although the bay side of the four-story glass building they delivered floats on tall columns, the campus side appears to rest on a hill.
“We ground up the asphalt and used it as an earthen berm,” says architect Richard Kobus. “That became part of a new quadrangle between the culinary center, the existing buildings, and future buildings.” The recycled slope was also a key move toward the LEED certification.
Each of the upper levels features a large corridor on the west side of the building, overlooking the berm. “That corridor is full of life all day, and it exposes all that activity to the quadrangle,” Kobus says. “Before this was built, the campus didn’t have a heart.” Duffy agrees that it does now. “The berm gives students a place to sit on a nice day, and it added enough green space to make the campus beautiful,” he says. That’s icing on the cake for Providence.