letters

HEIGHT DOES MATTER

I just read your excellent reportage of the Hilton Hotel project (“To Grow or Protect,” News, Dec. 28). It is so important in major controversies, such as this, to give both sides enough space to state their position.

Your research on height was important. Clemson’s Architecture School plans have made it clear that height is not all that matters. The design is bad in many other ways. Walking past the Mills House the other day, I was startled to realize it is seven stories tall and not at all overwhelming. The articulation of the facade expresses the harmony and the grain and texture of Charleston. The chiaroscuro effect of Charleston’s older buildings, at whatever height, makes them a delight for the pedestrian. Certainly, Marion Square buildings need enough height to give people inside the square a sense of comfortable enclosure, as if in a room. What is crucial for Marion Square buildings is the articulation of the facade. The good news is that Mike Bennett has contacted Anne Fairfax and Richard Sammons, the best classical architects in America, to work on the hotel facade. As you may recall, they coordinated the Vision for Marion Square, which you can see in the December 2003 issue of the Guardian at www.savethecity.org. I am delighted with your promise to continue your thoughtful coverage of planning in the coming year.

Peg Moore
Charleston

[Mrs. Moore edits The Guardian, the official publication of the Committee to Save the City. —Ed.]

A HANDFUL OF DUST

I take serious issue with some of the content of Bill Davis’ story, “To Grow or Portect.”

To begin with, I am not, as Davis stated, a “professor of historic preservation” at the College of Charleston. I am an adjunct professor in the History Department at the College of Charleston, for which I teach courses in Charleston architecture and Charleston and Lowcountry history. I did, some years ago, teach a course in historic preservation for the History Department. This past fall, I filled in for Ralph Muldrow to teach a course in American Vernacular Architecture in the Historic Preservation Program at the College. I am not affiliated with that program, however.

The major error with which I take issue is Davis’ misconstruction of my friend Cynthia Jenkins’ statements on the height of buildings in historic downtown Charleston. Ms. Jenkins, who is executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, opposes the proposed construction of two eight-story buildings overlooking Marion Square. She points out that the historic scale of the city has been determined by eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings, most of which are no more than three or four stories in height.

Davis challenges that view, stating that Ms. Jenkins “seems not to take into account” that there actually are taller buildings downtown, and proceeds to list the Francis Marion Hotel and several other buildings. I can assure Davis that Ms. Jenkins does take those existing taller buildings “into account.” In fact, they prove her point.

Davis himself “seems not to take into account” that the fact that he can list those existing taller buildings in two paragraphs should tell him something. There are a mere handful of taller buildings downtown, and their height is aberrational in terms of the overall scale of the historic city. Their aberrational height is, in fact, part of their historical context, and that should remain part of their definition. To add more and more taller buildings will deprive the existing ones of their historical context, and do further harm to the historic skyline of the city.

Davis also cites my own opposition to the proposed eight-story buildings, but “nevertheless,” as a member of the Board of Architectural Review, I “voted for the height, mass and scale of the contentious and ultracontemporary Clemson Architectural Center.” He seems to find those positions incompatible. In fact they are not.

The proposed Clemson Architectural Center will not puncture the historic skyline. It is proposed as only four stories in height. It will be lower in height than the historic Middleton-Pinckney House across the street at 14 George. As for being “ultracontemporary,” the B.A.R. has not yet approved an architectural design for the proposed Center. The design initially proposed, for the purpose of showing height, scale, and mass, is currently undergoing changes at the hand of the architects.

Robert P. Stockton
Charleston

[We apologize for overstating Mr. Stockton’s job title; as for the other “mistakes,” well … —Ed.]


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