10 questions for 2015

A rendering of Gaillard Center from Calhoun Street.

This year could shape the Lowcountry's architecture, preservation and urbanism more than any other single year in recent memory, with several story lines that promise to shape the city's appearance for generations to come. Here are 10 big questions that will be answered in all or in part during the next 12 months.

During the first half of 2015, noted New Urbanist architect and town planner Andres Duany essentially will look at what's wrong with much of peninsular Charleston's new architecture, and what the city can do about it.

While new buildings are reviewed by the city's Board of Architectural Review, there's has been a growing dissatisfaction with the end product, at least in many cases, such as louvers on Charleston Progressive School and the new apartments at 400 Meeting St., neither of which offer much to passersby.

Duany's study is sure to be scrutinized by preservationists, neighborhood leaders and the design community, but his recommendations are bound to carry weight with the mayor and City Council.

Clemson University had commissioned nationally known architect Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture in Portland, Ore., to design a new architecture center at Meeting and George streets. But when preservationists and residents objected to the design, and the BAR's approval process, Clemson backed off.

Clemson still owns the property, still presumably needs and wants a new academic building there, but has been quiet about its next steps. Its decision not only will shape that part of the city but also reflect on the school that has produced most of South Carolina's architects. Clemson's Provost Robert H. Jones is expected to lead a group figuring out the school's next steps.

By late summer, the city is expected to unveil its totally refurbished Gaillard Center, a $143 million neoclassical makeover of the former Gaillard Municipal Auditorium.

Architect David Schwarz's overtly neoclassical Gaillard design once was a common approach to the city's grand civic buildings, but not so much in recent decades. If the newly remodeled center, which will include a top-notch concert hall, exhibition space and city offices, proves popular, might that change?

The other part of downtown poised to see dramatic change is the city's historic Colonial Common, the peninsula's lower, Western edge.

Not only will Colonial Lake be fenced off in January for a year-long, $4 million upgrade, but the Beach Co. is expected to unveil new plans soon for its privately held property just to the west.

The Sergeant Jasper apartment building, one of a handful of high-rises built before Charleston capped building heights, is scheduled to be torn down, and both residents and preservation groups are watching closely to see what the company will seek to build in its place.

Even if it's nowhere near as tall as the Sergeant Jasper, the new development is bound to make a dramatic change to those entering downtown from Lockwood Drive.

Not all the big design and development questions revolve around downtown Charleston.

Just north of the Wando River, the city and developers are moving forward with plans to develop 9,000-acre Cainhoy Plantation, which sits in Berkeley County.

While this property is currently rural, with the exception of Clements Ferry Road running through it, it's within the Charleston urban growth boundary, and the pace and intensity of its developments will have major repercussions for its neighbors, including those across the Wando in Mount Pleasant.

The pace and appearance of new development has triggered lively debate well beyond Charleston's peninsula, and nowhere is that more true than along Mount Pleasant's Coleman Boulevard, where residents have spoken out against everything from a large new apartment complex to a small traditional home built too close to a sidewalk.

Some already have called for Mount Pleasant to return to its controversial plan to cap new home building permits, and while that still seems unlikely, a group of residents, developers and others soon will start meeting to talk about how the town is managing its growth.

Demolition by neglect has been an issue in Charleston for years, and while there is much renovation of once dilapidated buildings going on in the city, there are still dozens of examples of neglected, historic buildings in danger of being lost.

The city had a demolition by neglect task force looking at changes, such as fines that would create a pool of money for struggling owners, and that task force could renew its work this year, after more than a year's hiatus.

When urban sprawl became a big concern, local governments responded by taking steps to encourage more dense development closer to existing roads and shopping hubs. But as these so-called "gathering places" take shape, public support will be crucial as to whether they are seen as the wave of the future or a mistake. The stakes might be highest off Maybank Highway on James Island, where a new 280-unit apartment complex and a six-level parking garage are being built, one of the first major projects done under Charleston's gathering place zoning.

Later this year, the city, state and Charleston County are scheduled to convert one of four traffic lanes on the northbound U.S. Highway 17 drawbridge for bike and pedestrian use. Meanwhile, the city is expected to study the feasibility of restoring a trolley line on the peninsula.

While both of those steps involve traffic and not architecture per se, the future of urban Charleston, the city's density, land uses and streetscapes, will be shaped significantly by whether the car remains the principal way people get back and forth between buildings.

This year's Charleston mayoral campaign will be important for a lot of reasons, in addition to those already noted previously, but one of outgoing Mayor Joe Riley's hallmarks was an attention to the city's buildings and public spaces.

Riley is famous for reviewing colors and minute design details and also formed the Mayors Institute for Civic Design, which coaches mayors across the country how to deal with architects, traffic engineers and landscape architects to ensure their cities' projects are as best as they can be.

It remains to be seen how involved Charleston's new mayor will be, and that will be a big question, particularly as Horizon Village near the Ashley River and the land around the old Cooper River bridges take shape with new development.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.