BEHRE COLUMN: Best buildings since 2000
What's considered good design can be surprisingly subjective, but a new set of architecture awards -- unveiled this past week -- provides a glimpse of the tastes of some of Charleston's most influential voices.
The city's Design, Development and Preservation division works with architects and advises city review boards on new and renovated architecture -- both in downtown's historic district and along the city's major suburban streets.
The new awards reflect what its staff considers six of the best new buildings built in the city limits since 2000.
Agree or disagree, the list shows the diversity that marks the city's newest architecture -- and underscores the city's insistence that its architectural review looks at quality more than style.
Dennis Dowd, city architect and preservation officer, says the awards are aimed at fostering excellent design. The projects essentially were blessed by the city before his arrival here in 2009.
"Not to apologize for Charleston, but we believe these buildings could compete anywhere," he says. "When someone does something exceptional, it should be acknowledged so other people can pick up the mantle."
Here are the winners.
East Bay Townhouses
The most traditional work in the bunch, done by Molten Lamar Architects of Columbia. These nine condos reflect the necessary ingredients of good traditional buildings: high-quality materials, accurate proportions, a human scale and good detailing.
Their presence along East Bay, Elliott and Boyces Wharf is a great bit of urbanism, and their parking garages are discretely tucked away. In fact, most all winners deftly handle vehicle access and parking.
The aquarium, by New Orleans architect Allen Eskew, is the oldest of the winners (opened in 2000) and is aging well. The architecture riffs on a Charleston single house, with its southern piazza space, but is otherwise modern.
"It's simple and elegant in its detailing and materials," Dowd says. Its siting over the water and its multiple layers give it an added richness, and its siting at the water's edge appears as though a barge has docked, especially when seen from the north.
The recent Roper Hospital addition, by HDR Architecture Inc. with help from LS3P Associates, is a contemporary nod to the older Roper's existing building.
"It's not literal to the original building, but it's very sensitive to it," he says.
Dowd says the new details, such as the building's gray reveals, pick up on the older building's vertical windows, "but they're richer because they're layered more." It also has some subtle art deco details and well-done landscaping.
One Vendue Range
This project, by Schmitt, Sampson Walker Architects (now Schmitt Walker Architects), is the winner in the "Public Realm" category that recognizes parks, streets and other shared spaces.
The city normally discourages architects and developers from pushing their buildings back from the street, Dowd says, "but in this case, it really works because of the quality of the outdoor space."
Dowd is speaking of the small, human-scale public square created between the City Gallery building and Prioleau Street. But he has equal praise for the opposite side of the same building and how it relates to Waterfront Park and the nearby Pineapple Fountain.
Church of the Holy Cross
This small white church at one of Daniel Island's most visible intersections was designed by Stubbs Muldrow Herin Architects and opened in 2006.
Dowd particularly admires the building's relationship to the corner, as well as its simplicity and scale. Its tower and entrance offer an intriguing asymmetry and help draw the eye away from a large transformer box puzzlingly placed in such a public spot.
The new meeting space at Charles Towne Landing, designed by Liollio Architecture (now Watson Tate Savory Liollio Architecture), is about as different as can be from the scruffy geodesic dome it replaced.
"It's not a 'Look at me' building," Dowd says. "It sits nicely in the setting and is not competing with the beauty of its setting."
Dowd says making a mostly concrete building fit into a rural setting "is a real fear," and its details --from an indention near the entrance to its massive chimney to its metal louvers are well executed. "You have to work these things to make them simple," he notes. "They don't start out simple."
--Architecture critic and prolific author Witold Rybczynski will give a lecture at 6 p.m. Friday at the Sottile Theatre, 44 George St. The cost is $20, less for students. For more information, contact email@example.com.
--Also, last week's column contained an error: The Gordon brothers built St. Paul's on Coming Street, which later merged with St. Luke's (a Wraggborough church designed by Francis Lee).
Robert Behre may be reached at 937-5771 .