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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.  

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