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Monday, October 7, 2013

Charleston Needs a Prince

Charleston needs a Prince. 

His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, received the Albert Simons Medal of Excellence on Wednesday, September 11th at the College of Charleston.  The Albert Simons Medal was established to mark the twentieth anniversary of the School of the Arts.  Albert Simons pioneered the teaching of art at the College of Charleston, and the medal honors individuals who have excelled in one or more of the areas in which Albert Simons himself excelled, including Civic Design, Architectural Design, Historic Preservation and Urban Planning.  

The Historic Preservation and Community Planning Program in the Department of Art History at the College of Charleston School of the Arts presented the award.  

HRH Prince Charles’ life passion has been the pursuit of sustainable local architecture, planning and agriculture.  He has written the book Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World as well as a book on sustainable agriculture, The Prince’s Speech: On the Future of Food.  He has delivered countless speeches over the years aimed at raising the bar in the fields of architecture and planning.  He also asks hard questions such as why the skyline of Paris remains generally regarded as beautiful while his beloved London (including St. Paul’s Cathedral) is assaulted by Modernist glass towers and contextless boxes.  HRH laments that while London was beautifully rebuilt following the Great Fire of 1666 (by Christopher Wren and others simply by following the basic patterns of English Traditional Design), the rebuilding efforts of the post-WW2 generation of architects failed London by breaking with the entire historic fabric of not just the City but also of the English culture.  

Charleston could use a Prince today: a patron who understands the importance of heritage and growth within context.  The motto of the City of Charleston is Aedes mores juraque curat (“She guards her buildings, customs and laws”). This is precisely what has not been happening for the most part in Charleston following World War 2, outside of preservation activity.  There is no Living Tradition of how to build sustainable Charleston architecture that, by definition, includes cultural and historic precedents.  That Living Tradition should include local materials and tradespeople as well as successfully integrate new technologies and method, hence it being called a “Living Tradition.”

The forthcoming Clemson Architectural Building is a prime example of the shortcomings within the design community.  This building offers little, if anything, in the way of referencing the traditions of Lowcountry Architectural Design, nor takes any precedence from the 343 years of Charleston architectural DNA.  It seems even ironic that a building to house the Historic Preservation Program would itself feature only accidental gestures that show a remote understanding of traditional design, which should be a core component of the preservation program, in its efforts to foster a living tradition of local design. 

Contrast the Clemson School of Architecture with the efforts of the American College of the Building Arts.  This program is a wonderful example of bringing forth a Living Tradition and has been influenced by HRH’s own Prince’s Foundation programs.  The local design community should take the time to educate themselves in the core concepts that ACBA is applying on a daily basis and also honor and celebrate the new generation of craftsmen it is producing.  

In addition to HRH Prince Charles’ books, below are some additional sources for further learning and applying contextual design and growth.  

The Old Way of Seeing: How Architecture Lost its Magic.  Jonathan Hale, Mariner Books, 1995. 

The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability.  Steve Mouzon, The New Urban Guild Foundation, 2010. 

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction.  Christopher Alexander, 1977. 

The Architecture of Community.  Leon Krier, Island Press, 2009. 

Image courtesy of T-Square Interns.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

USC Grace White House wins an award.

Brown Design Studio had the great honor of receiving an award last week from the Historic Beaufort Foundation.  The award was for the adaptive re-use of the Grace White House into a 17 student dorm for the University of South Carolina.  The award was noted for the special sensitive care taken in the preservation of the building's interiors.  

The Grace White House was originally built in the 1880's and received a very major renovation in the 1930's.  The house is located in Historic Beaufort South Carolina and was the home of Beaufort's first woman attorney.  The house is also interesting in that it has a full basement, something rare in the Lowcountry.  

The House was purchased by the University of South Carolina as an addition to the Historic Beaufort Campus with the goal of converting it to housing for Art Students.  The program called for 16 students along with a RA in a private apartment along with common space, kitchen, laundry, a route of access for ADA compliance and 21st century services.  

On the Exterior, the goals were modest with basic maintenance and replacement.  The building was stripped of its lead paint and repainted along with some basic trim replacement.  The major changes were the addition of a concealed chair lift in the rear and organized out door space, parking and services for the students.  

The interior was another story however with the building having complete original interiors including trim and full plaster walls and ceilings.  The building was completely re-wired, still having its 1930 eara wiring in tact along with adding in security, phone, University network access and wireless service. The entire HVAC system was replaced also with new high-effiencey units added.  Much of this re-wiring was completed by careful work by the tradesmen to minimize the demo or cutting of the existing plaster walls.  

Additionally, the full basement was converted over to a private RA apartment using most of the existing masonry and wood walls.  This lower level had been partially open to the outside but we have sealed it for much better energy savings and air quality.  

The building is a great example of adapting an existing building into a very different modern use while retaining all of the local historical character of the building.  These students receive the exact same level of care & service that any other student would get but they get to enjoy a large 12' wide porch also!  

Tucker Building Corporation completed the work and should receive praise for their efforts along with all the tradesmen who worked with care and purpose on this project.  The City of Beaufort should be commended for the recent Planning efforts to encourage this type of project and the growth of the Beaufort Campus with the Art Student Scholarships fund.  Historic Beaufort Foundation should also be thanked for presenting the award and helping to shape and encourage both preservation and positive change.  

Lastly, the University of South Carolina should receive high praise for the efforts here.  Chancellor Upshaw and her staff have shown great vision and leadership in the re-investment of the Historic Beaufort Campus.  That vision is clearly one that values promoting the wonderful uniqueness of the Historic Downtown part of BEaufort along with offering a 21st Century education.  One of the best things Beaufort could do for quality of life and economic development, is to grow the Historic Beaufort Campus.