Champions of classical architecture win national honors

American College of the Building Arts student Michael Lauer drew this entablature of the Corinthian order for one of his classes. The school is being recognized with a national award for its educational contribution to the classical architectural traditio

Those who fear Charleston's tradition of classical architecture is eroding can look to two local institutions for new hope.

Both the American College of the Building Arts, which teaches its students to draw and build in the classical tradition, and the Committee to Save the City, the most vocal advocate for quality classically inspired new design, will receive national awards for their work next week.

The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America is presenting its Arthur Ross Awards to both groups on May 5 in New York City.

The Committee to Save the City, founded by Jack Simmons and Peg and Truman Moore more than a decade ago, is getting honored right as it finds itself in the thick of a design war over Marion Square.

It's a war the committee anticipated and prepared for.

In fact, its Vision for Marion Square, a 2003 document that called for several grand new classically inspired buildings framing the square, set the table for the current battles over the new hotel on the old Charleston County

Library site as well as for the future of the Mendel Rivers Federal Building and Millennium Music sites.

That vision, developed with help from Fairfax & Sammons Architects, also won an award this year from the Congress of New Urbanism.

The committee's name actually stems from an informal group that Peg and Truman Moore established in New York years before moving to Charleston.

That group helped score a major preservation success in saving Ladies Mile, a late 19th century section of commercial New York that was threatened. They helped bombard city leaders with letters from influential New Yorkers

If preservationists come in two forms, those motivated by beauty and aesthetic concerns and others motivated by a desire to save historic sites, the committee is unabashedly the former.

Ironically, some of its biggest resistance comes from the latter, those concerned about saving memories and even buildings, such as the Mendel Rivers, that might not be great to look at but reflect the city at a point in time.

"I'm bewildered by it," Peg Moore says of the committee's opposition. "We came here to Charleston because we thought that Charleston was full of people with a strong preservationist sensitivity."

"Wouldn't it be great to have buildings around the square that relate to each other?" Truman Moore asks. "That form some sort of harmonious soul?"

Many, though certainly not all, Charlestonians feel the same way, and thanks to the committee, they are more comfortable speaking out.

While the committee is being honored for its advocacy, the American College of the Building Arts is being honored for education.

William Bates, a professor of drawing and design at the college, says he joined the college because he was interested in teaching aesthetics in an old-school way.

"Since the trade professors were teaching very traditional methods, I wanted to teach the drawing and design classes in a similar traditional method," he says. That includes using pencil and paper to sketch plaster casts and other methods taught at the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts during the 19th century.

The school is seeking accreditation, which will help it lure more students and move forward with expansion plans at McLeod Plantation. Bates says of the Arthur Ross Award that "certainly it beefs up our resume considerably."

In fact, the college's McLeod plans, which call for preserving the existing buildings and carefully inserting new ones for the college's classes, is part of what earned it the Arthur Ross Award.

While I'm on the subject of awards, several Charleston- area projects won recent honor awards from the State Historic Preservation Office, including:

--Cathedral Church of Saint Luke and Saint Paul (and 4SE Inc.);

--10 Storehouse Row (and The Noisette Co). in North Charleston;

--Charleston City Hall (Evans and Schmidt Architects and NBM Construction Co.)

City Hall also won an archaeological stewardship award.