Date of Award
Master in Interior Architecture [Adaptive Reuse]
In 2016, the Chinese American Restaurant Association recorded a total of 50,000 Chinese restaurants operating in the United States, far exceeding the number of McDonalds, Burger Kings, KFCs, and Wendy’s combined. In the near two centuries that Chinese people have been a part of the American fabric, our food has become one of the country’s most popular ethnic cuisines. While these restaurants stand as testaments to the tenacity and entrepreneurship of the Chinese immigrant, they are also reminders of the centuries of adversity Chinese Americans have endured. The racial divisions triggered by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 have resulted in fluctuating attitudes towards Chinese American culture and cuisine, influenced by factors having nothing to do with the food itself. Now more than ever, with the rise in Asian American and Pacific Islander related harassment and attacks, a reckoning with this troubled past is imperative.
Downtown Providence was once home to a small, yet prominent, Chinatown. In 1914, Chinatown was razed as part of an urban renewal effort rooted in discriminatory immigration policies and racial biases. While this Chinatown’s presence lived on through a revolving network of Chinese restaurants, suburban flight and economic decline forced many of them to close in the 1980s. Most traces of this cultural enclave have disappeared and with them the loss of a communal identity for Chinese Americans in Providence. The Art Deco Kresge Building on Westminster Street sits on the former site of one of these bygone restaurants, the Chin Lee Corporation. Using digital projection as an ephemeral intervention, a series of illuminated images scattered throughout the downtown area and superimposed onto the Kresge Building's facades will enliven Downtown Providence and transform it into an urban canvas. Each provocative image tells a narrative that recalls the cultural memory of this forgotten community and moment in time and encourages the public to question notions of identity and history.
By converting the abandoned interior of the Kresge into a hub for the Chinese culinary arts, the intervention will demystify the ingredients and techniques used in Chinese cooking, while functioning as a cultural amenity for communities of all backgrounds. A vibrant social staircase cuts through the existing floor structure, establishing a bright and dynamic public atrium for visitors to enjoy. Serving multiple functions, the staircase becomes a common meeting ground where visitors can congregate, dine, and cultivate ingredients. Beyond each flight of stairs is an environment that celebrates Chinese cuisine; a food market, a demonstration kitchen, a taste lab, and a kitchen garden. Each space taps into food's potential to bring people together and allow them to understand one another. The adaptive reuse of the Kresge Building reinstates a place for cultural expression within the urban fabric of Providence that honors the memory of this forgotten Chinatown, while challenging stereotypes and shedding light on the complicated history of Chinese immigration.
Yang, Robert, "Remembering Chinatown: a fusion of food, identity, & memory" (2021). Masters Theses. 729.
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View exhibition online: Robert Yang, Remembering Chinatown