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Foundation Matters

Charleston Made: A New Dawn for Development

Posted: June 12, 2024

If you cast your mind back to 2022, HCF staff, and other community members were asked to participate in a weeklong design charrette for the Courier Square Phase II project at 635 King St. The architecture firm Sottile & Sottile of Savannah, GA led the design charrette on behalf of Greystar, the developers of the parcel.

As highlighted in the July ’22 HCF blog post The New, Old Standard of Architecture in Charleston, there is an eternal struggle with this scale of development on the peninsula of Charleston. 635 King St is slated to become an 8-story “Texas Donut” style apartment building. While there is plenty of room for debate over whether or not this form of development is appropriate in Charleston, one thing has been clear from the very beginning. Regardless of the height, scale, and mass of the proposed building, the architectural direction, i.e. the design, materials, and detail of the building, would be exquisite.

Sottile & Sottile broke new ground for what could be possible in the design of a large format development. The firm laid out a 5-point “manifesto” for what the design must achieve:

  1. The Solution Must be Humane
  2. The Solution Must be of Charleston
  3. The Solution Must Relate Well to all Frontages
  4. The Solution Must Beautify the Skyline
  5. The Solution Must Reward the Street Experience

The artistically rendered drawing sets submitted to the Board of Architectural Review in 2022 for Conceptual Approval met the test of the manifesto with unanimous support. In 2023, the project came back to the BAR for preliminary review, where the material details and construction documents undergo rigorous vetting before final approval. At preliminary review there was one prevailing question in everyone’s mind, is this even possible?

Be it through apathy, attrition, or the cost of development, the standard for architectural excellence in Charleston has continued to erode over many years. This statement is not intended to demean the many incredibly talented architects working in Charleston on large-scale developments, but instead highlights the problem that the formula for high-quality architecture has changed. Value engineering, supply chain issues, access to skilled craftspeople, complicated ROI strategies, insurance, building codes, and many more factors are all competing to ensure that development projects, when executed at a certain scale must first and foremost, be a safe investment. This puts grand ideals for things like beauty, artisanship, and quality so far down the list of priorities they usually never get a place in the designs at all. 635 King St turns the model for new development on its head.

Many people complain that everything built in Charleston today looks like it can fit into any major city. They’re absolutely correct, because designing a building that is entirely unique to Charleston is a risk. I’m sure the folks at Greystar who are working so hard to make 635 King St come to life, would absolutely agree. #2 of the design manifesto states “The Solution Must be of Charleston.” A statement that some would say is impossible for a project of this scale. That is where this project breaks the mold, and answered the BAR’s question, “is this even possible,” with a resounding “yes.”

Greystar, and the design team at Sottile & Sotille have worked closely with the American College of the Building Arts (ACBA) to create the many detailed elements that are incorporated into the design of 635 King St. The faculty and students are crafting wrought iron lanterns, gates, stone columns, sculpted terra cotta panels, hand-carved keystones, and more. Elements, which elevate the architectural integrity of the project and give it an authentic, hand-made quality that is so rare in commercial development. Many of these elements are already in production, giving more credo to the idea that not only is it possible, it is already in the making. The celebration of beauty, craftsmanship, and authenticity that defines Charleston’s historic built environment has been present through the entire design process of this project, and is coming to fruition by the talented hands of Charleston artisans.


At the Board of Architectural Review – Large meeting on 6/12/2024, the BAR gave Final Approval to the 635 King St application.

I will be very satisfied when it is built as the contractors and architects have envisioned so that it will in fact set a new standard in Charleston that will be very easy to point to and say it’s the new standard in constructibility, instead of tired excuses about how it cannot be done.  – John Robinson, Chair of Board of Architectural Review – Large

I think this will be the best new building in a century in Charleston. – Seaton Brown, BAR Member

We are excited to see this project continue to move forward after 2 years of incredibly hard work by the design and development teams. As noted in our July ’22 blog post, this project has the potential to set a new standard for architectural excellence not just in Charleston, but also on an international stage, and that is something to be celebrated.

-Justin Schwebler, Preservation Manager, Historic Charleston Foundation, June 2024

4 responses to “Charleston Made: A New Dawn for Development”

  1. Stephen Ziff says:

    Music for my ears! Good outcomes result from the hard work of our city’s concerned citizens, our elected and appointed government personnel and from the organizations which stand for the quality of life that we so strongly want.

  2. Daniel Bosler says:

    My first reaction upon viewing this beautiful rendering is that the overall design feels too much of one piece. I wish it had the feeling of several existing Charleston buildings unified, to function as one. I feel this design could be built in most any city that wanted something old school, regardless of the heritage of that city.

    I admit this might be my own idiosyncratic take on design, both interior and exterior, since I prefer designs, when rooted in traditional elements, should appear to have evolved, rather than designed all at once.

    This isn’t a bad design, but it does not feel entirely “of Charleston” as much as it is for Charleston.

  3. Dick Wright says:

    Shrinking the size of the buildings would detract from their unique structural details. As the city grows, things like height need to change to maximize land usage.

  4. Shannon Gillespie says:

    The distinctive detail icing the facades of this structure does not obscure the immense scale of the donut block. While this scale makes it economically feasible for some, it does not reflect the pedestrian approachability & varied scale in both business & residential sectors of culturally rich, historic Charleston!

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