Brad Cloepfil, the Portland, Ore., architect who designed Clemson's controversial architecture center, said he wanted to trigger a public discussion about architecture here.
Even if his proposed design is never built - the city's Board of Architectural Review's approval of it now is being fought in court - he has succeeded in one sense.
The Clemson building flak is a reminder that Charleston's downtown has seen very little of the kind of unapologetically modernist architecture that has been built in many other cities - and that's raising new talk about whether that's a good or bad thing.
Here's a look at some contemporary architecture that has transformed Charleston as well as other cities, for better or worse.
Old Charleston County Library: The Charleston County Library building on Marion Square opened in 1960, and its boxy, modernist glass and marble design was roundly criticized. Eventually, it was abandoned for a larger, more traditional home 30 years later. The empty building had a few admirers, and more than a few concerned about the height of a new hotel proposed on the site, but they ultimately could not stop the wrecking ball.
Boston City Hall: This historic city's home, designed by Kallmann, McKinnell & Knowles, opened its doors in 1968 and remains one of the nation's best-known examples of Brutalist architecture. Its detractors have been equally brutal: The Project for Public Places called the plaza "one of the most disappointing places in America," and the city's mayor actually sought to have the building razed and replaced. Its future remains uncertain.
Sydney Opera House: Before Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, this 1973 opera house, whose expressionistic modernism conjures up the image of a regatta, quickly became Australia's most recognized building. But it was far from love at first sight. Architect Jorn Utzon was rejected by three judges in a 1956 competition, and he resigned from the project after Australia's new government stopped paying him. But none other than Gehry would later say Utzon "made a building well ahead of its time, far ahead of available technology, and he persevered through extraordinarily malicious publicity and negative criticism to build a building that changed the image of an entire country."
Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain: Few buildings have caused as much architectural stir in recent times, or done more to raise the profile of their home city, as Frank Gehry's 1997 art museum, a curvy explosion of titanium, glass and limestone. Many cities have sought out Gehry and other so-called "starchitects" to try to replicate the success of having a building that's a tourist attraction in and of itself. Gehry is designing another Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi.
SCAD Museum of Art: The Savannah College of Art and Design created its new art museum by interjecting a modern shell into the brick remains of a crumbling 1853 train depot, the nation's oldest surviving antebellum railroad depot, located just west of the city's historic squares. The 2011 project by Sottile & Sottile architects has won awards for its adaptive reuse and a design that juxtaposes steel and glass with the city's traditional gray brick.
The Ara Pacis Museum, Rome: The new home of one of ancient Rome's greatest treasures - a peace altar built more than 2,000 years ago - was designed by Richard Meier (who also used the same travertine marble on the Getty Center). Some considered this an abomination, but others praised it for its transparency. It offers pedestrians a glimpse of this historic stone treasure at all hours of the day and night.
The Bankers Trust building, Charleston: There's no question the 1974 cantilevered steel, glass and concrete bank branch (now closed) at 281 Calhoun St. was a clear break from more traditional buildings nearby. Its original construction did not require Board of Architecture Review approval, but the lines have been expanded and now the BAR would have to sign off on any demolition request. If such a request ever were to be made, expect some to defend this building that author Jonathan Poston once described as "unusual in the city's new downtown architecture in that it is unapologetically modern."
30 St. Mary Axe., London: The city from which Charleston took its earliest architectural cues is no stranger to modern architecture juxtaposed with its historic skyline. This office building, designed by Norman Foster and the Arup Group, was the city's second tallest when it opened in 2004. It quickly became known as the "Gherkin" for its shape, though one of the city's most famous residents, The Prince of Wales, has led the charge against modern architecture. He famously criticized a proposed National Gallery expansion by calling it a "monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend."
Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum built in 1997 in Bilbao, Spain, has raised the city’s profile with its curvy explosion of titanium, glass and limestone.×
The old Charleston County Library on King Street.×
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