Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Carolina Lowcountry Architecture: The Basis for a Distinct Architecture of the Lowcountry.
The Lowcountry is a region rich in natural beauty and natural resources but not much in terms of natural building materials. Local materials define the core vocabulary for a distinctive architecture. How the local craftsmen use them is another way.
Traditionally, the Lowcountry has been a composed of the smaller scale villages and towns. In these smaller, more loosely organized places, the dominate construction material has been wood. Heart Pine and cypress form the backbone of local easy to find and use materials from the earliest times. Both of these woods are tolerant to the humid climate here and the local craftsmen knew how frame it using there strength of the wood. Thus most of the housing stock and much of the village main center will be wood frame and siding. Many houses would have cypress or pine interiors with the level of refinement and detail based on the formality and cost of the home. Douglass Fir or Brazilian Cherry are not local woods and thus not part of the local vocabulary.
Tabby was a local material here that made use of the local sand and oyster shell to form a concrete like material used for foundations and walls. Tabby was an imported cultural material from Spanish Florida but was then embraced and made part of the Lowcounty vocabulary. Tabby is mostly forgotten now as concrete technology has moved on but this is an excellent example how a distinctive architecture evolves over time and incorporates nearby cultural influences.
Brick is a great building material that makes use of local clay for its core. Brick color will vary based upon the type of clay used it, a brick from Texas Hill County is a different color than a brick from Upstate South Carolina. Brick was an imported material for a long time here in the Lowcounty with Plantations slowly developing a series of kilns for there own use and a later market in the cities of Charleston and Savannah. Brick made from local clay is a Lowcounty material but it is typically used on larger buildings or in more urban areas (early firecodes required brick walls). Plaster and Stucco were often used to finish some of the rather crude handmade bricks for either interior or exterior finishes.
Culture drives much of what we do, who we are and how we do things and that is very true for the Lowcountry. The Lowcountry has a rich history of European people exploring and founding early settlements here dating back to the 16th century. This European culture has given the area its primary pattern of settlement and its primary pattern of architecture, at least until the Machine Age. With a few exceptions, the Lowcountry was founded by the British, Carolina being a Royal Colony. This means that the building patterns and proportions were brought from England, Scotland, Bermuda and Barbados.
These proportions and patterns are in the core of the Lowcountry architectural DNA. They have evolved over time but the core human based proportions remained until the Machine Age which changed the proportioning systems to one of Industry not Man. A horizontal Modernist window from 1971 feels stale next to the grace of a double hung of 1848 and proportion is why.
While the Lowcountry Architecture will evolve over time, it’s core DNA should be protected here. You can not import another DNA, from say Tuscany Italy, for example and expect that to not look very fake or cartoon like. Nor can you import a generic corporate architecture Atlanta and expect it to enhance the sense of place here. Each time we bring in foreign DNA, we allow a piece of what is special here to be lost. Each generic building brings us one step closer to a generic place and its a slow but steady march to get there and there are great easy alternatives that allow growth and allow each new building to contribute to the growth of the sense of what the Lowcounty is.
Friday, April 20, 2012
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Friday, January 27, 2012
Thursday, September 15, 2011
What to do with a Cul-de-sac?
One of our biggest challenges is to deal with the sheer amount of suburban repair work needed. 50+ years of suburban investment with the most world's most prolific economic engine means that there is much work to undo.
Post real estate melt-down, many of our commissions have been focused on this type of repair work. In many cases, it is much like the power went off and simply left half finished developments lying about. Our goal is to try to repair these areas as best we can and set them up to grow into a type of meaningful place. This begins by tackling the process of transformation of the ever common cul-de-sac.Ironically, or perhaps not so much so, the word cul-de-sac means "bottom of the bag" in French. So the bottom of the bag in this case, gets you the residential equivalent of a fast food drive through, easy for cars but bad for humans.
Our case study example here looks much like a typical bottom of the bag below but with a slight "upgrade" of a green space in the middle as a feature. Also, as a more advanced version of the cul-de-sac, it actually has alley ways feeding some of the lots.
That little green circle is nicer than pure concrete or asphalt, but does little on its own. The lot structure is still driving the form of the house placement and you will still end up with something like the next photo, a nicer bottom of the bag.
What to do? Well, in many of these types of repair projects, we have many limitations of what we can do. Often, our project is already entitled or zoned and the client does not wish to go back into that arena. Other times, much of the actual infrastructure is already in as is the case here.
Our one solution was to begin to define the former bottom of the bag into a multi-use place. Cars use this place but also kids, bikes and humans in general. It becomes a place that social things happen in as well a a simply visually pleasing space.
Here we use three basic techniques:
1. Make a place beautiful. Places that are not visually appealing are not valued as highly as other places. Here we add a squared up center green with a large oak tree planting (and other small details such as lighting etc.)
2. Define the place (space): A place must be defined or enclosed in some manner. Here we focus moving the building form and mass around to create walls for our new space. Same number of houses, just moved them around to create something of value.
3. Approach of the space: This is the one that most designers overlook. Every interesting space has some type of approach to it. Here we use a row of palmetto trees to create a tighter street section and rhythm that then opens up to the main space.
Simple fix that costs very little in terms of actual costs. We also kept existing utility runs and really only changed some lot lines, house placement and a few ornamental design moves inside the right of way.
As an alternate, we also looked at another version here. This is a more involved approach as we moved the right of way a little and actually carved out a small block structure in the former cul-de-sac parcel. Our main goal here was to generate more value by fronting our homes on a more controlled common green vs. a less desirable suburban second tier arterial road.
We used the same basic principals as above but just modified the plan so that 8 of the 12 homes faced the value generating space vs. 4 in the other example. Since this is a real world project, our client and design team will now have to weigh out the extra value generated in sales of our approach vs. the extra design and engineering needed to convert to this scheme. Our earlier example, needed almost no additional engineering or approvals.
There is hope to punch out of the bottom of the bag. Breaking the cul-de-sac is easy to do from the point of view of a designer of real world solutions to this large problem. Here, remember that our three main principals; Beautiful Places, Defined Places and Anticipation of a Place were used to build extra value out of typical suburban post melt down wreckage.