The Steel Yard, Providence


Image 01 – Source – The Steel Yard Building

steel yard


The Steel Yard is Located in Olneyville, on a blighted neighborhood of Providence, close to the Woonasquatucket River. The neighborhood is characterized by abandoned and contaminated industrial lots, scattered industrial sites, parking lots and dilapidated housing stock along the river. Considering the existing conditions on site the founders of project Steel Yard – Clay Rockefeller and Nick Bauta (artists who graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with an entrepreneurial vision) – wanted to create a ‘yard’ as an artists collective but with the aim of retaining ‘the urban wild’ of the site.

The project is inherently a brownfield remediation that makes the program sit on a layered landscape which:

  1. Technically deals with sealing the lead contaminated soil.
  2. Building a green landscape over the capped soil layer.
  3. Integrating stormwater management using the moat system (bioswale + infiltration trench)
  4. Managing Circulation and car access.
  5. Accommodating a variety of activities into the landscape.Picture2 Image 02 – Source – Location – 27 Sims Avenue Providence, Rhode  Island


Image 03-04 – Source – Spaces within the Steel Yard

DESIGN PROGRAM FOLLOWED the following strategies:

  • Exterior spaces : A central carpet as a multipurpose public space catering to individual and group work. The events that were visualized were, car rallies, farmer’s markets, etc for hundreds of people, to activate this oversighted neighborhood of Providence.
  • Secondary spaces : work shop and indoor/outdoor related work spaces, an outdoor foundry, a hang-out space for movie nights, and a future visiting artist’s studio.
  • Tertiary spaces: service spaces such as those for storage of raw materials and art, incubator businesses and artists in shipping container studios, and 20 parking spaces.
  • Innovative passive storm water management design ,along with the historic preservation


The initial idea was to allow the runoff from the site into the Combined Sewer Outflow’s of the city. However, keeping in mind a sustainable goal, RIDEM (Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management) required 75% of the storm water to remain on site, stored.

Due to constraints in budget the primary aim shifted to infiltrate, treat the stormwater and reduce the runoff volume.

Reduce Soil Disturbance

The idea was to keep as much of the contaminated soil on site as possible, to avoid causing a negative environmental impact elsewhere. After removing a minimal amount, the soil was capped and stabilized with a binder(fesibond), covered with clean soil to create 9 different landforms.

Reconcile Grade Displacement

The central carpet was created, and the remaining soil on site was graded to connect the various levels that resulted from the capping.

A continuous ‘moat’ in the form of a bioswale was created to direct the run off of all the storm water into this bioswale. 

The moat separates paved areas from buildings and filtered the water before percolating it into the soil.

Re-introduce Urban Wild vegetation and habitat

The bioswale moat was constituted by water-loving plants to filter stormwater and prevent erosion of the swales.  Given the raw industrial nature of the site, vegetation was keen to be instituted in those across the site that were not required for workspace.


Image 05- Diagrammatic representation of understanding the systems. Adapted from existing system explanation from – Source [The Carpet and the Moat]


Image 06- Diagrammatic representation of understanding the systems. Adapted from existing system explanation from – Source [The circulation bridge and the movie room landfill]


Image 07 – Stages marked through an explanation of surface layers. Adapted from – Source [Carpet and Central Landform]


Image 08- Stages marked through an explanation of surface layers. Adapted from – Source [Moat, Movie Room Landform and Vehicular Path]


  • The “Cap” is a layer of twelve inches of clean fill was laid across the site to contain the contaminated soil, to prevent leaching and make it an impermeable layer.
  • Annual checks are mandated by RIDEM to check these caps, possible leaching and breach of environmental standards.
  • The various caps to minimize the run off, capture and infiltrate the water are:- “hard” paving such as concrete and bituminous asphalt-porous paving materials permeable concrete, concrete pavers, grasscrete  and crushed stone-soft landscaped areas such as bio swales and lawns

    -planted areas, geotextile fabric separates the contaminated soil from clean fill


Image 09- Source – Image that shows the site condition while the process of capping is in progress.



Image 10- Source – Elevated central carpet, bridges across the moat and permeable pavers – raised beds to capture stormwater

Image 11 –Source – Existing gantry cranes are integrated into the landscape also defining edges.


Water collection, Stormwater management, Recreation space

Educational and training programs, Space for creative expression

Job creating and independent skill development.


Image 11- Source – Maintaining the urban wild

MAJOR STAKEHOLDERS apart from the Architects and Consultants the major organizations that were on board the project

  • RIDEM- Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management
  • NBC – Narragansett Bay Commission
  • RICMC- Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council
  • EPA
  • The community and artists involved in the running of the place and imparting educational facilites

Funding Sources:

    $400,000 EPA Brownfield Clean-up Grant

  • $199,000 Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation-managed EPA funds and
  • $100,000 of RIEDC Revolving Loan Program loan.
  • $300,000 in founder’s initial remediation investment
  • $100,000 from Steel Yard’s private fundraising.
  • Total Cost:$2.1 Million


Image 12- Source – Maintaining the urban wild


The project showcases the idea of sustainability by reinstating the vegetation. Also, there were several volunteers who were part of planting the trees on site.

Today, the origination partners with youth networks to not only expose them to the functionality of art, but also involve them in tree planting programs and ecology of the site. The place has become a center for artists and is well received by the community.

The central location imparts skill training and education in the industrial arts.

References :



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