A mixed-use redevelopment makes its mark on an historic neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina. Offering 35 homes and a commercial building with two rental apartments, the project successfully marries the relationship between private, semi-public, and public spaces without simply "re-tooling" the historic "Charleston Single House" type. Considered by city planners and officials as a model for contemporary development, the project addresses modern concerns while complimenting its historic surroundings.
This project is located in the downtown historic district of Charleston, South Carolina, at the corner of Coming and Morris Streets. This historic neighborhood has been experiencing rapid redevelopment and restoration in the past several years. Historically, this 1.5-acre site contained both residential and commercial buildings, and an old street that extended off of Coming Street into the interior of the property. By the 1990s, the site was being used as a gravel overflow parking lot for the College of Charleston.
The project required that the new homes be sold below market value to make them affordable to a younger generation of buyer. Providing housing at a reasonable price in what was once a vacant lot, would require a dense development with completely new infrastructure, and space was at a premium. Other constraints involved the FEMA flood elevation requirements, which required the new buildings be raised 5 to 8 feet above the ground in a neighborhood of historic homes built very close to the ground. Furthermore, attempts to gain the support of the City Board of Architectural Review, the surrounding neighborhood groups, and the historical and preservation organizations, had to be balanced with the needs of the developer and the budget of the project.
The challenge was to design an "all at once development" which could provide an urban infill, and continue the neighborhood fabric without overwhelming it. Due to the number of dwellings required, a new street and its infrastructure was created. It was also necessary to provide sufficient off street parking and outdoor space, as well as abundant natural light within each building.
A mixed-use solution was proposed and the property was rezoned to a new zoning district type; created by the City Zoning and Planning Office to encourage this type of development. The historic street was reestablished and extended over to Morris Street to provide access once again to interior lots. It was determined that there was to be 35 homes and a corner commercial building that contained a 1,000ft² of commercial space on the ground floor and two rental apartments above. Nineteen of the residential units are single-family detached structures and sixteen of the units are contained in eight duplex structures. The buildings are derived from five basic types that alter according to various site relationships. All residences utilize porches and rooftop terraces in order to replace the exterior spaces that were displaced by density at the ground level. The residences seek to achieve the complex relationship between private, semi-public, and public spaces that many Charleston neighborhoods accomplish so well without simply "re-tooling" the historic "Charleston Single House" type. To make this "all at once" development merge will with the surrounding neighborhood, strong connections between indoor and outdoor spaces in each house were developed as well as the small-scale details at the pedestrian sidewalk level. The residences also utilized contemporary construction techniques and materials such as cementitious siding, engineered lumber and metal clad windows, as a part of an effort to make the development more environmentally responsible.
It is not solely by the mere replication of materials or historical forms that we feel arrives at an architecture which merges well with an existing context. It is more important that the overall composition is well thought out and honest in its expression of construction techniques. The prevalent connection to private gardens, hidden courtyards, back alleys, formal streets, and urban parks are similar idealistically rather than formally to the approach taken by more historical structures. As the development is nearing completion, it is already being referred to by city planners and officials as a model for contemporary development that addresses modern concerns while complimenting historic surroundings.