Most architects working in downtown Charleston try to balance two things at once: design a new building that is both unmistakably new while ensuring that its architecture still complements the building’s historic surroundings.
It’s a tricky line to walk, and there’s plenty of room for debate as far as how well and how often architects successfully pull it off.
Clearly, the recent visit from consulting architect Andres Duany shows that many feel there’s, at the very least, room for improvement.
But as the city absorbs Duany’s advice, it’s also celebrating an example of a new building that most feel has done a great job striking this balance.
Holder Property’s new office building at 174 Meeting St., designed by architect Eddie Bello with McMillan Pazdan Smith, is being singled out by the Historic Charleston Foundation.
Here’s a glimpse at how Bello’s design looks both familiar and new at the same time.
Its brick and wood materials are the most common in the city, but the way they’re handled, from the light tan color of the brick to the stained, not painted, finish on the cedar, looks unlike anything from the 19th century.
Bello notes that such stains weren’t available historically, so only paint could protect wood over the long haul. The drama of the stained wood also is highlighted by black reveals that surround the panels and make them pop.
The building’s structural skeleton is steel, but because of the deep insets for the windows and main entrance, the building looks substantial —as if it has thick brick walls.
Most new brick buildings look unsatisfying because it’s easy to tell that the brick is just a veneer, their windows are hardly recessed at all.
As for its form, the building somewhat resembles a single house, but Bello says that’s not intentional. In fact, he says the recess is designed to highlight the entrance, not recall a single-house piazza (which would be on the south side, in any case).
The curved, wooden lantern segment above the entrance has smaller windows, a pattern Bello says was inspired by the Circular Congregational Church’s windows just down Meeting Street.
Perhaps the neatest trick is how it acknowledges its three-story neighbors at 172 and 180 meeting, both of which also are three bays wide (each window is considered a “bay”).
The neighboring building also are three stories tall, and while 174 Meeting is four stories, its first two blend together because of the uninterrupted brick columns, giving it essentially the same three-story, three-bay look as its neighbors.
Its large windows also engage Meeting Street, though passersby will notice a series of bolts that can secure special panels to flood-proof it whenever the next hurricane approaches.
The building actually is large, about 50,000 square feet, but its northern facade is recessed from the property line enough to allow a series of windows (which otherwise would be prohibited without a setback). And the building’s drive along the south is narrow enough, and treated with pavers, to look like an alley rather than the modern car access that it is.
The only clunky note here seems to be the signs, particularly the oversized ATLATL lettering at the cornice line, fortunately a detail many pedestrians won’t see. At least the oversized FDC (fire department connection) sign on the sidewalk at least is painted the same shade as the brick rather than bright red.
Winslow Hastie of the Historic Charleston Foundation says the foundation felt it was important to call out a larger-scale new building in light of Duany’s recent visit, and talk about why it was good.
“It’s got a lot of traditional elements, but it’s clearly quite contemporary,” says Hastie, the foundation’s chief preservation officer.
The building will receive a Robert N.S. and Patti Foos Whitelaw Award from the foundation during its Charter Day event at 6 p.m. April 24 at First Baptist Church.
Similar awards will be given to Steven Niketas for rehabilitating 114 St. Philip St. and to William Cogswell for rehabilitating The Cigar Factory, at 701 East Bay St.
The foundation also will present its Samuel Gaillard Stoney Conservation Craftsmanship Award to Bernard Elliott and William Mehard, while it will provide special recognition to Mayor Joe Riley and Charles and Sallie Duell.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.