A man built a secret apartment in the Providence Place Mall in Rhode Island and lived there undetected for four years. Here's the story of Michael Townsend and his “luxury apartment” hidden in plain sight.

The construction of the Providence Place Mall took place from 1997 to 1999, and during that time, Providence-based artist Michael Townsend watched closely as it took shape. On his website, Townsend mentions how he likes to explore buildings and alter public spaces, so when he discovered a 750-square foot space during the mall’s construction, his wheels began to turn. It seemed to be an accidental room that only existed due to the formation of the designed rooms around it.

The Power of Radio

“During the Christmas season of 2003 and 2004, radio ads for the Providence Place Mall featured an enthusiastic female voice talking about how great it would be if you (we) could live at the mall,” explained Townsend. “The central theme of the ads was that the mall not only provided a rich shopping experience but also had all the things that one would need to survive and lead a healthy life.” Townsend took this very literally.

How Townsend Pulled It Off

Roman Mars, the host of the narrative podcast 99% Invisible, did an episode on this unique story called “The Accidental Room” and explained how Townsend managed to pull the veil over the eyes of mall security.

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Mars explained how Townsend’s original plan was to spend only a week at the mall, but after revisiting that hidden room four years later and finding it still unused, Townsend and his face decided to turn it into a personal condo.

“The new plan wasn’t just to live in the mall for just a week, it was now simply to live in the mall,” Mars said.

NBC News reported that Townsend and friends built a cinderblock wall and nondescript utility door to keep the loft hidden. Inside, it was fully furnished, and the “residents” utilized the mall’s bathrooms.

The End Game

Townsend had plans to finish up a kitchen, install wood flooring, and add a second bedroom, but plans were cut short when mall security guards busted in.

Townsend insists that “the entire endeavor was done out of a compassion to understand the mall more and life as a shopper,” but his art project ultimately resulted in a misdemeanor charge for trespassing.

The judge gave Townsend a slap on the wrist for living at the mall for four years, and for good measure, the mall security banned him from the mall for life.

For four years, Townsend and his friends lived rent-free in downtown Providence, hiding in plain sight. He will forever be known as the man behind the secret apartment.

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