Thursday, October 24, 2013

Clemson Architecture Thumbs Nose at Traditional Charleston

The Washington Light Infantry Building sits on one corner of Meeting and George Streets. A typical College of Charleston building sits on another; a newer but traditionally designed office building sits on a third.

Clemson wants to put a modern architectural monstrosity made of glass and "pierced concrete" on the remaining corner, replacing a one-story traditional building ironically named "Graduate Program in Historic Preservation."

Some of us remember the controversy over the pink marble library building on King Street.
We were told it was an exemplar for the future. Yeah, right. 

It appears now that Charleston's Board of Architectural Review (BAR) has been so compromised by links to Clemson that it couldn't find a quorum Wednesday night to vote on architectural details.

Don't you wonder how that happened?

1 comment:

HdeS Copeland said...

It's the story of the Emperor's new clothes. No one wants to admit the "experts" aren't all that sure of what they are doing either.

The egos of the princes of the architectural community are driving this. The process is being followed in the total absence of common sense. This kind of arrogance attempts to denigrate all that is based on traditional design principles and values. This kind of bias is also what's turning our remaining historic buildings into sanitized museums.

We are falsely taught to believe all that is old is bad, too expensive or elitist. The experts are elitist in their own right. They conveniently forget to mention that cultural connections and adaptive reuse have value that prolong a building's useful life, qualities that institutional modernism lacks.

We're training the next generation to believe that traditional is obsolete, yet we encourage modern architects to ignore lessons of conservation and even to devalue respect for others.

Maybe in 30-40 years, after years of maintenance cost overruns and public sneering for the dated design, the "new" Clemson Architecture Center will follow the path of the pink library. A lot of money will spent now for what will very likely become nothing more than expensive landfill by 2050.

It is more than ironic that the site of this out-of-place, ego-centric and disharmonious structure is where the home of James S. Gibbes once stood surrounded by equally grand and traditional landmarks. Gibbes was the benefactor of the city's very tradition art museum that bears his name.

It is certainly ironic that the home of Charleston's first self-taught gentleman architect, Gabriel Manigault, was located at the same intersection, on the corner just to the south. He introduced the style of Robert Adam to the city. He "copied" a "new" style based on the newly discovered classical details from Pompeii. That may very well explain why Charleston's 210 year old City Hall, designed by Gabriel Manigault, is still in use and the 40 year old pink library (designed by whom?), was abandoned and is now gone.

Public taste for all that appears to be new is very fickle. When the bloom is off the rose, its value declines. Unlike the cycle of a rose which may repeat its splendor in the next season, a non-traditional building is often a one-time, single season show. For the long term, it is best to study and learn well the lessons of the past, even as one builds new.– Henry Copeland