Building more of Charleston 

Massive Change

The diagrams you see here compare two blocks of equal size. One is a six-story "Texas Donut," the kind of structural mass being built in Charleston and elsewhere. The other is laid out with multiple types of buildings ranging from two to four stories following in 350-year-old urban and architectural patterns that coalesce in this place to form one of Charleston's positive cultural contributions: its unique and celebrated urban and architectural character.

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Charleston is a classical city which reflects classical architectural values that have endured for millennia and that transcend political changes. And yet it has evolved and adapted classicism into unique local architectural patterns that are well suited to our particular sub-tropical climate. Its urban patterns, too, are unique, and they allow for a high density of people to live together in a walkable and practical way in a hot climate.

click to enlarge A Texas Donut - PROVIDED
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  • A Texas Donut

Previous city administrations supported Texas Donuts as a way to increase density in Charleston. As the diagram shows, compared with Charleston's traditional urban fabric, Texas Donuts have a higher density not of people, but of cars. It also shows how Charleston's traditional patterns form a rich urban fabric made up of many buildings with a variety of piazzas, porches, loggias, passages, courtyards, gardens, trees, birds, bees, breezes, rooms with more than one exposure, small-scale economy, and human-scaled charm. Texas Donuts, on the other hand, are block-sized monoliths, and the majority of their rooms have only one exposure, with entrances that open to interior hallways hundreds-of-feet long.

In theory, Charleston's Historic District is protected by an ordinance and (now two) Boards of Architectural Review. They are tasked with issuing Certificates of Appropriateness for additions and new buildings. City ordinance calls for "continued construction in the historic styles" precisely because the district is characterized by buildings built in some styles and not in others.

Its purpose is aesthetic: that the ensemble is more important than the individual building. Charleston's dense, low-rise, charming, and walkable urbanism is so much in demand that locals are being priced out because not enough supply is being built. In Charleston, we should be building fewer streets, buildings, and blocks that reflect architecture's contemporary globalization, homogenization, and placeless monoculture. In Charleston, we should be building more of Charleston.

Jenny and Christopher operate Bevan and Liberatos, an architecture and design firm in Charleston.

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