This space usually features what I think is cool, but today I turn it over to some talented architects.

More specifically, here's the upshot of the Charleston chapter of the American Institute of Architects' recent design competition.

The jurors picked the Lowcountry's best new buildings, built and unbuilt, from 60 projects from 21 architecture firms.

NBBJ and LS3P Associates Ltd. won a merit award for the Medical University of South Carolina's Ashley River Tower, whose eight-story glass "sail tower" is a marked departure from the blocky look of Charleston's hospital district.

The jury applauded its exterior skin for being "handsome," saying it "provides an iconic identity." True enough, seeing as MUSC has adapted the building in its new logo. Jurors also praised its "understated and cheerful" interior.

Glenn Keyes Architects won a merit award for the steeple addition to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Broad Street.

Jurors noted the church's "insubstantial" foundation would have limited the height of the new steeple, which must survive hurricane winds. The solution? An open lantern and grillwork allows air to flow through, minimizing the wind load.

Jurors called the solution a "very clever" unification of old and new, praising its combination of traditional forms with contemporary materials and lighting.

Meadors Construction Corp. won a merit award for its extensive renovation at 97 Broad St., an 1835 home whose rugged life included a stint as a Piggly Wiggly warehouse.

"This is a massive renovation of a completely rundown building. In fact, it is hard to believe the building had not caved in," jurors said. "Because the renovation challenge was so daunting, the results are all the more remarkable."

Cummings & McCrady Inc. Architects won an honor award for restoring the 1850 Church of the Holy Cross in Statesburg. (This is the only built winner that hasn't already appeared in this space; the church was rededicated in February after standing empty for 10 years, and I plan to write in depth about it soon).

Liollio Architecture won an honor award for the Charles Towne Landing's Founders Hall, the handsome bookend to the historic site's new visitors center, also a Liollio design.

The Founders Hall also won the first Student Choice Award, which was juried by the Clemson Architectural Center in Charleston.

Jurors say "This elegant design connects interior and exterior spaces with a good use of contrasting materials."

Novus Architects won a special citation for "exterior strategy" for the way it linked together four historic homes along southern Calhoun Street - just west of Ashley Avenue -- to create the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge.

The jury praised the way it kept an appropriate residential scale while its circulation loggias linked the homes together to make a workable whole. "The existing houses address the street, while the new additions at the interior of the block provide a sense of community, comfort, and privacy," it said, adding that its white forms provide unity and traditional sensitivity "while avoiding the tendency to mimic the past."

The jury also picked two outstanding projects (among 15 entries) that have been designed but not built -- at least not yet. Architect Chris Bonner, AIA won a merit award for his scheme for a "Single Core Home," which the jury called "a successful modern adaptation of a historic vernacular building type," specifically the Charleston single house.

Chris Altman, an architect with Stubbs Muldrow and Herin, won an honor award for his unbuilt project -- the Ultimate Garage -- that previously won a national competition for garage design sponsored by Maserati and Architectural Digest. It features a reinterpretation of a railroad turntable for moving cars from the driveway to a display area.

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On Dec. 16, Charleston's Board of Architectural Review is set to review plans for the Gaillard Memorial Auditorium's extensive makeover. The preliminary design, done by architect David Schwarz, can be seen at the Civic Design Center, 85 Calhoun St. (just in front of the Gaillard) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Schwarz will attend an open house there from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Robert Behre may be reached at 937-5771 or by fax at 937-5579. His e-mail address is rbehre@postandcourier.com, and his mailing address is 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403.