See also: List of tallest buildings in Providence
Downtown Providence has numerous 19th-century mercantile buildings in the Federal and Victorian architectural styles, as well as several post-modern and modernist buildings, located throughout the area. In particular, a fairly clear spatial separation appears between the areas of pre-1980s development and post-1980s development. West Exchange Street and Exchange Terrace serve as rough boundaries between the two.
The newer area, sometimes called "Capitol Center", includes Providence Place Mall (1999), a Westin hotel (1993) and The Residences at the Westin (2007), GTECH Corporation (2006), Waterplace condominiums (2007), and Waterplace Park (1994); the area tends toward newer development, since much of it is land reclaimed in the 1970s from a mass of railroad tracks referred to colloquially as the "Chinese Wall". This part of Downtown is characterized by open spaces, wide roads, and intent landscaping.
The historic part of downtown has many streetscapes that look as they did eighty years ago. Many of the state's tallest buildings are found here. The largest structure, to date, is the art-deco-styled former Industrial Trust Tower, currently the Bank of America Building at 426 feet (130 m). By contrast, nearby to it is the second tallest One Financial Plaza, designed in modern taut-skin cladding, constructed a half-century later. In between the two is 50 Kennedy Plaza. The Textron Tower is also a core building to the modest Providence skyline. Downtown is also the home of the Providence Biltmore and Westminster Arcade, the oldest enclosed shopping mall in the U.S., built in 1828.
The city's southern waterfront, away from the downtown core, is the location of many oil tanks, a docking station for a ferry boat, a non-profit sailing center, bars, strip clubs, and power plants. The Russian Submarine Museum was located here until 2008, after the submarine sank in a storm and was declared a loss. The Fox Point Hurricane Barrier is also found here, built to protect Providence from storm surge, like that which it had endured in the 1938 New England Hurricane and again in 1954 from Hurricane Carol.
The majority of the cityscape comprises abandoned and revitalized industrial mills, double- and triple-decker housing (though row houses, found so commonly in other Northeast cities, are rare here), a small number of high-rise buildings (predominantly for housing the elderly), and single family homes. I-95 serves as a physical barrier between the city's commercial core and neighborhoods such as Federal Hill, and the West End.
As with the rest of the northeastern seaboard, Providence receives ample precipitation year-round. Monthly precipitation ranges from a high of 4.43 inches (112.5 mm) in March to a low of 3.17 inches (80.5 mm) in July. In general, precipitation levels are slightly lesser in the summer months than the winter months, when powerful storms known as Nor'easters can cause significant snowfall and blizzard conditions. Although hurricanes are not frequent in coastal New England, Providence's location at the head of Narragansett Bay makes it vulnerable to them.