Located at the gateway to Central Falls, the renovation of Quinn Square sets the tone for the transformation of the downtown core, simultaneously breathing new life into an underutilized public space while acting as a catalyst for an active, vibrant streetscape in this diverse community.  Operating at the scale of a small urban park, it provides a consistent seasonal burst of color, texture and pattern while also serving as a fitting space for memorial observations.

Quinn Square was originally dedicated in 1933 to honor the service of Private James H. Quinn, a young Central Falls resident killed in action during the Great World War on November 7, 1918, just four days before Armistice Day. It is located at the gateway to downtown Central Falls, at the intersection of West Hunt and Dexter Streets, directly across from St. Matthew’s Church.  The site was chosen for its proximity to the church- a National Register of Historic Places landmark designed in 1929 by the famed Rhode Island architect Walter F. Fontaine- for Veterans Day (then referred to as Armistice Day) and Memorial Day (then referred to as Decoration Day) observances. Recently, the city engaged in a unique program of public/private partnership in an effort to restore activity and public life in its urban spaces. At Quinn Square, a complete renovation was proposed and funded by a prominent adjacent business. The goal: restore the gateway to the city to its former status, and in turn act as a catalyst for the rebirth of the downtown area.

The landscape narrative was greatly influenced by the veterans.  While most memorial spaces are programmed to tell the stories of those who were lost, the physical form of the landscape at Quinn Square instead evolved into a simple allegory for healing wounds.  Healing the Square, allowing it to regenerate and ultimately bring new life to this location, was viewed as an appropriate way to memorialize all veterans, not just those who were lost.

Creating a more sustainable landscape was a critical part of the program.   The new site design was organized around a series of sustainability measures that minimized impervious surfaces and diverted runoff from entering the local municipal combined sewer system. Pre-renovation, Quinn Square was comprised of 74% impervious surface, all of which fed into the combined city system, which discharges directly into Narragansett Bay. The redesign reduced impervious area to 19%, all of which are high albedo surfaces. The on-site infiltration strategies included the introduction of a series of drywells that capture 100% of stormwater runoff and infiltrate it in-situ.  In addition, traditional sustainability benefits were realized through carbon reduction and generation of oxygen (by reintroducing healthy, large caliper deciduous trees to the landscape) and heat-island reduction (through the aforementioned introduction of greatly decreased impervious areas and high albedo pavements).  Native, locally sourced large caliper deciduous shade trees and large shrub/ornamental grass/pe­rennial beds were planted, which increased shade and reduced water loss from transpiration and evapotranspiration, thus greatly improving water use efficiency. Finally, site lighting was specifically designed to reduce light pollution and maximize energy efficiency.

WDA integrated traditional materials into a contemporary aesthetic, creating a clear hierarchy of spaces while maintaining flexibility in its use. The incorporation of these new features highlight the role of the Quinn Square landscape as a medium that can simultaneously address complex site engineering and sustainability issues while still developing a destination landscape that creates a unique sense of place and acts as a focal element for the community.  Quinn Square has once again become the site of the annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies, and the construction of streetscape improvements for Dexter Street are now underway to further transform the diverse downtown area.


Honors and Awards

American Society of Landscape Architects, Rhode Island Chapter - Honor Award 2015



Location: Central Falls, RI
Client: Dexter Credit Union, City of Central Falls
Completion Date: 2013


WDA Design Group
   Michael Dowhan - Principal in Charge
   Erik Vangsness - Project Manager
   Ramon Ibarlucea - Project Designer


Landscape Architecture
Civil Engineering
Regulatory Permitting