The right call
I would like to commend the Board of Architectural Review for its approval of the design for the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston. As a lifelong resident of Charleston, and a Clemson architecture alumni, I am thrilled that we are one step closer to having a building of this quality in our city.
At the June 25 meeting, and in a subsequent newspaper article, I was disappointed to hear Randy Pelzer's comment that, "This is a building that is simply Clemson coming to town saying, 'We do modern architecture. Look at us.' But it is not Charleston."
The Clemson Architecture Center Charleston just celebrated its 25th year, during which a diverse group of students have been lending their talents and efforts to projects throughout the city.
During my semester here, our studio aided the city with a feasibility study for the circa 1897 Trolley Barn at 628 Meeting St. We sought viable, potential uses that would preserve and revitalize this historic structure. Earlier this year that very property was sold to the American College of the Building Arts, which teaches artisan construction techniques to a new generation.
To indicate that the new Clemson center is representative of the university coming to town with a modernist agenda is a mistake.
Given the direction of the current design, I feel that we are providing future generations the opportunity to study and preserve an equally beautiful and relevant building alongside its older neighbors.
Alison C. Dawson
As a lifelong resident of Charleston's historic district who has attended dozens of BAR meetings as a concerned citizen, preservationist or developer over the course of the last 30 years, I was shocked and dismayed to learn during the presentation of Clemson's proposed architectural center that conceptual approval was no longer just for height, scale, and mass, but now also included the architectural direction of the building.
Previously the architectural style of the building was not decided until the second step, preliminary approval, with further refinements occurring through the last step, final approval. I believe that this came as a surprise to most of the concerned citizens, neighborhood associations, and preservation organizations who also took the time to come and express their views. Such a radical change begs the questions: When did the change in the ordinance occur? How and when was it publicized? Did Clemson obtain conceptual approval before or after the change was implemented? What are the legal ramifications either way?
While I appreciate and respect the time, expertise, and dedication the BAR members give to Charleston, I am very concerned as to the direction the city staff and BAR has taken lately.
Charleston's Preservation Ordinance has served the city well until recently in preserving the unique character of the historic district, but if there is such a blatant disregard of the printed text of the BAR's own ordinance regarding new construction's relationship to the streetscape, then what does the future hold?
It seems that this recent decision could have opened the proverbial "Pandora's Box" and set a precedent that might destroy the core argument for new construction respecting and fitting in or being in harmony with the surrounding historic streetscape.
Clemson's new architectural building might be the latest and greatest in architectural design, but it is totally incongruous and out of context at the historic corner of George and Meeting streets.
If Clemson wanted to build such a bold modern building, then they should have done it in a different location such as farther up Meeting Street, where the city has allowed pedestrian, modern flat-roofed buildings, lacking any architectural merit, to create an uninviting canyon effect that you can find in any American city.
But, if they had to build at George and Meeting streets, they should have respected Charleston's ordinance, their Ansonborough neighbors, and the citizens who live here and have worked hard to preserve one of the most beautiful cities in America by designing a more classical styled building.
Unfortunately, the building's current design, at its present location, looks more like a "big lipped" bloated fish gasping for air or a grinning "Cheshire Cat" sneaking in under the guise of architectural superiority.
Theodore D. Stoney
As a Charleston native, young local design professional, I fully support the design of the Spaulding Paolozzi Architecture Center presented at the June 25 BAR meeting.
I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Clemson University.
I believe that the design would be a small beautiful addition to the historic fabric. The Clemson architecture center has been in Charleston for 25 years and it would be a great asset to the community and the school to have a permanent location on the peninsula.
Contemporary architecture can coexist and integrate within a historic urban fabric. There are plenty of wonderfully successful examples in Europe. This is a great opportunity for the city of Charleston and I commend the board for approving this design.
The Board of Architectural Review has a statement of purpose and a policy statement of Charleston standards as guidelines for its decisions. What is it about these two documents that the present board does not understand? Perhaps a review is necessary.
"The purpose of the BAR is the preservation and protection of the old historic or architecturally worthy structures and quaint neighborhoods which impact a distinct aspect of the city.
"New construction should be sympathetic to the historic features that characterize its setting and content. To respect the significance of the historic content, the new work should respect the historic materials, features, size, scale, properties and massing of its setting."
Nowhere does it state that Charleston needs a "pivot point" to introduce 21st century architecture into its historic district, most especially with materials such as massive aluminum screening and curving concrete walls with a series of holes.
Of course, our architecture is a mixture of several centuries of differing styles, but together they comprise our historic district.
Clemson's Spaulding Paolozzi Center is a slap in the face of our historic district, opening the door to the demise of all that thousands of people have worked towards for 100 years.
Shame on Clemson for wanting to insult our architectural heritage and shame on the BAR for allowing it. Are you proud of yourselves?
PATIENCE D. WALKER
The Spaulding Paolozzi Center to house Clemson's architecture program at 292 Meeting St., where the John Thomas Leonard mansion stood, is arguably not in keeping with its historic location.
Next door to the north is the small weatherboard Strobel House, (c.1800), at 296 Meeting St. Behind it is the Middleton-Pinckney House (c. 1796-99), 14 George St.
This section of Meeting Street has lost almost all of its historic neoclassical style homes. In 1926 the home of Gabriel Manigault (c.1797), originally at 288 Meeting St. was demolished by Standard Oil to build a filling station.
Gabriel Manigault designed South Carolina Hall, 72 Meeting St.; Charleston's City Hall, 80 Broad St.; and the home of his brother, Joseph Manigault, in ca.1802. That house at 350 Meeting St., now a museum, was saved from demolition in the 1920s.
It was later purchased at auction in 1933 by Princess Henrietta Pignatelli, a Charleston native and heiress to the A & P fortune. She deeded it to the Charleston Museum.
Across the street from the newly proposed Clemson center on the Northwest corner was the Radcliffe-King house (c.1806) which was very similar in design to the Middleton-Pinckney House. In 1880 it became the Boy's High School and was torn down in the mid-1930s with some of its Adamesque interior decoration being moved to the Dock Street Theater.
Also of tremendous loss to this one block area was the Alexander Shirras House, (c.1811), 271 Meeting St., and its exceptional group of accessory buildings adjacent to the Trinity Methodist Church.
Also lost were neoclassical style houses at 281, 282 and 285 Meeting St.
These were all lost. But the question remains: Has any of them ever been replaced by something better?
John Galt Way