Add orange to Clemson building debate in downtown Charleston

  • Posted: Saturday, October 26, 2013 6:00 a.m.

Architecture is too important to leave to architects.

That’s a particularly pertinent maxim in this historic city. If we squander our precious architectural heritage, Charleston won’t be Charleston anymore.

Thus, architects aren’t the only folks subjecting the proposed design for the Clemson Architecture Center at the corner of Meeting and George streets to intense scrutiny.

So there were many disappointed folks Wednesday when the city’s Board of Architectural Review, at a scheduled hearing, postponed consideration on the Clemson building due to the lack of a quorum.

Several board members properly withdrew from the oversight process due to their affiliations with the Clemson architectural program or the center project.

And we architectural novices should properly consider experts’ insights in this debate.

For instance, distinguished local architect Dinos Liollio, my old pal and former St. Andrews classmate through 12 years of elementary, junior high and high school, praises the general design that Clemson is pitching.

Liollio, who should have been named Leo instead of Dinos, wrote in a letter to the editor published Friday that while “dialogue” on “details” continues, “There is no question that with the continued evolution of its design, the Paolozzi Center will become a modern masterpiece, in the same context as our U.S. Customhouse and Old Exchange Building are historical masterpieces.”

That’s an impressive endorsement. Dinos has done quite well in his profession despite going to Auburn instead of Clemson.

Where the Tigers play

Still, the one-sided focus on Charleston obscures the reality that this will be a Clemson building.

So why not consider a design more in line with Clemson’s own architectural gems?

This Clemson grad’s Final Four of appropriate Clemson Architecture Center models ...

Death Valley: Yes, an 83,000-plus stadium would overwhelm the Meeting-at-George streetscape. But by reducing the capacity to 30,000, we could reduce the number of buildings razed to make room for what could become a future College of Charleston football team’s home field. And the deep excavation required to replicate the “valley” effect would uncover fascinating artifacts — including a “Howard’s Rock” of sorts to place at the street-level top of the “hill.”

Fort Hill: John C. Calhoun, whose statue looms high above the Charleston street that bears his name, is buried in St. Philip’s Churchyard. But his home for the last quarter century of his life was this tastefully small mansion (no, that’s not an oxymoron) on land that became the core of the Clemson campus. Calhoun’s daughter Anna Maria married Thomas Green Clemson, who inherited the property and left it to the state — stipulating that it be used to create the land-grant college.

Tillman Hall: Its distinctive clock tower would buttress Charleston’s enchanting array of such striking reminders that time keeps marching on. Just don’t reprise the title honor the school bestowed on “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, the driving political force behind Clemson’s creation. Even by the ugly standards of his time, Tillman was an especially virulent white supremacist. He also condemned The Citadel as a “dude factory.”

And the winner is ...

The Esso Club: Though slightly off campus, this Clemson icon is repeatedly hailed by assorted celebrities, including Brent Musburger. The former gas station/convenience store/bait shop, just across Highway 93 from the school and a short stroll from Lake Hartwell, is now a popular tavern. Though packing students and faculty into such a small building would be too snug a squeeze, the scale could be creatively expanded (split-level additions?) without diluting the original’s primitive, functional charm.

Another asset: There are currently no bait shops south of Calhoun Street.

There’s also no reason to hastily approve any design that’s not right for Charleston — and Clemson.

And of course, we’ll need to paint giant orange Tiger paws on the streets leading up to our new local landmark.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.

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