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Foundation Matters

The New, Old Standard of Architecture in Charleston

Posted: July 5, 2022

A few months ago the Preservation team from Historic Charleston Foundation was invited to participate in an exciting exercise, an old-school architectural design charrette. Sottile & Sottile, an architecture firm from Savannah, GA was hired to design a new Greystar development project at Courier Square phase II. The site is located along the west side of King St, between Line and the terminus of Columbus St, and will be an 8-story, multi-family residential building.

Sottile & Sottile laid out a week-long schedule where their design team would be on site to begin the arduous and often contentious process of designing a large building in downtown Charleston. They invited city staff, neighborhood association members, local architects, the preservation organizations, the development partners, and many more, to help them explore potential design solutions for this important site.

The design charrette process in architecture is one that dates back to the Beaux-Arts movement of the late 19th century. Reminiscent of the old standard for architectural practice where stakeholders, architects, and engineers collaborate to ensure the highest caliber of design. This level of thoughtfulness and collaboration is rarely practiced in the field today, and the chance to participate in a true charrette for a major project in Charleston was an exciting opportunity.

The most powerful message at the beginning of the week was the design team’s “Call to Action,” a 5-part manifesto that provided an overarching framework to the process.

  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

If you have to pick your jaw up off the floor, we’re right there with you. Why isn’t this the standard mantra for all new architecture in Charleston?

As you can imagine starting the week off with this thoughtful philosophy produced impressive results by end of week. The design team had completed a number of elevations rendered in loose interpretive sketches and watercolor that gave hints to the future of the design. The King St elevation is punctuated by three 5-story towers with elliptical arches in each tower’s pediment. A grand Art Nuveau inspired entrance is centered on the façade with decorative storefronts along the streetscape. The upper stories are recessed, more restrained in detail, and lighter materials with a higher percentage of glazing. The elliptical arches unify the motif on the other facades as well, including important perspectives from the distant view along the cross-town entrance ramp. These perspectives show how the building seeks to make a positive and conscious impact on the King St skyline.

The project is ambitious. Far more ambitious in its level of detail, movement, and ornamentation than any project proposed in Charleston for a very long time. In June, the design was unanimously approved by the BAR. With positive comments from the Board members, staff, and the public, it was made abundantly clear that this level of investment, commitment to community engagement and traditional approach to architectural design pays dividends.

With a unique opportunity to infill a mostly empty urban block, we believe this building could be a landmark project for this generation. The design charrette was an incredible and thoughtful process that brought together a community of concerned people hoping to create better architecture in Charleston. We feel that this project has achieved those goals, possibly even surpassed them. We look forward to continuing to work with the design team as the building makes its way through the next phases of the BAR process, and we urge the BAR and the developer to avoid the dreaded value-engineering that occurs so often and ultimately weakens the design and quality before construction begins. We are even more hopeful that this creates a new standard to revive the old traditions of architectural excellence in our city.

-Justin Schwebler, Property Manager for Historic Charleston Foundation

Finished rendering of King St. elevation from BAR-L application (click to enlarge)

3 responses to “The New, Old Standard of Architecture in Charleston”

  1. Tommie Robertson says:

    OMG! The beauty and magnificence of this building is a soul-nourishing, hope-giving representation of mankind’s potential for goodness and excellence. And boy oh boy, do we need this, when daily newscasts are so troubling. Thank you HCF for participating to bring your own excellence to the process. I want to live there!

  2. Mr. Antony M. Merck says:

    Indeed, why isn’t it the goal of every large scale new building in Charleston to be Humane, Charleston, Relate well to all Frontages, Beautify the Skyline, and Reward the Street Experience? A design may or may not achieve these goals but can we not agree with the worthiness of these goals? Please continue to follow this project and in your next report define and keep us informed on the”dreaded value-engineering”.

  3. Clark J. Shaughnessy, Architect AIA Emeritus says:

    An extraordinary process and result. The front facade is graceful and interesting. Do not let politicians and boards-of-approvals go along with “value engineering” that changes any of the elegance or materials suggested by the colored rendering. The developers need this project as is. They will be able to lease commercial and residential spaces at premium prices. Flattening the facade and simplifying the details will make this another ho-hum 5-story building with standard leasing rates and no particular “draw” to attract window-shoppers, My one comment: make the first floor 2-feet higher. It is very important for commercial lessees to have the ability to aggrandize their space vertically.

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