As architects in Charleston, we are students of history successfully meeting modernity and seek out those moments when homage is paid to historic structures with meaningful renovations for current day functions. During a recent visit to Rome, we found ourselves in one such transformation at the Palazzo Pulieri Ginetti - the Elizabeth Unique Hotel. An ancient palazzo, lush and thoughtful interiors by Studio Marincola Architects, art curated by the nearby Russo Art Gallery - it’s a wonder we ever left. The architects, interior designers, artists and craftspeople involved with this hotel design struck the perfect balance of honoring the historic vessel it inhabits while offering an environment that is somehow bold and restrained at the same time; the details were as powerful as the overarching effect. Bravo, we will be learning from this one for a long time.
“Traveling - it leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller.” Battuta
Professor Rodriguez did a very comprehensive job teaching our History of Architecture classes at Virginia Tech back in the day, but nothing compares to standing in front of or inside these architectural giants and studying by drawing. Here are some of the rough travel sketches, mostly exploring scale, form and massing, from our recent trip to Rome.
When we first landed in Charleston, SC one of our favorite buildings we discovered downtown was the S.H. Kress Building on King Street. At the time, (mid-1990s) it was vacant and unloved - like much of King Street, which is hard to imagine now - yet its quality, proudness and Art Deco details shown through. The massing of the building struck us with the depth of what often is a flat facade, materials including yellow brick, terra cotta, and gold accents work together to form a structured ornamentation. As fate would have it, the architectural firm we worked for was hired to do a feasibility study for its adaptive re-use as a Barnes + Noble. (Spoiler alert: it apparently wasn’t feasible.) Being eager, young intern architects, we set out with measuring tapes, graph paper and flashlights, tasked with field measuring and documenting this architectural and cultural gem. There is something equal parts exciting (like when your flashlight illuminates the original ornate plaster work on the ceiling through a gap in the 1980-ish faux ceiling) and creepy (evidence of critters) about walking through a vacant building that reeks of days gone by, especially one so grand.
It was only a short time after that, when in New Orleans, ANOTHER Kress building was discovered. “You mean there is more than one?” How we got this far in life without knowing about this retailer and its commitment to a quality built environment, we will never know. Research mode found what is now one of our beloved books, the National Building Museum’s “America’s 5 & 10 Cent Stores - The Kress Legacy” by Bernice L. Thomas. Now, every time we explore a new city, we look for the Kress Building.
The period between the turn of the century through the 1930s was a prolific time for this new type of American architecture, aligning with a new type of retail - the five-and-ten-cent store - along with the advent of the chain store. There are most certainly systemic negatives to chain stores in general, their encroachment on small/local businesses, the standardizing of America’s towns and as of the last 50 years the uninspired and cookie-cutter designs; this architectural blog focuses on how S.H. Kress invested in and ultimately elevated retail and commercial architecture. Click here for a list of Kress buildings in the US.
“Kress stores are more than pretty designs. They are commitments to a better everyday world, to civic pride, to the bounties of democratic society. The modernist canon has helped make us more cynical. There is much to be gained from taking a few steps back in time and understanding the sophistication as well as the civility of our forebears.” Dr. Richard Longstreth, GWU
“Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite -- getting something down.” Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way
Some of our favorite craftspeople and artists who as Julia Cameron would say are “ getting something down.”
KHALIMA LIGHTS, Wadmalaw Island, SC | Copper and Brass Handcrafted Lighting
We came across the talented husband and wife team at Khalima Lights when we were designing the interiors for the new Firefly Distillery building. Handcrafted from copper and raw steel, their fixtures are honest, simple and artful. [Shown below: “Bare Firefly Pendant”, “Waycaster Pendant” and “The Pablo".] Click here for their website.
JEREMIAH JOSSIM, Savannah, GA | Artist
Jeremiah Jossim’s landscape series, painted on circular canvases, stopped us in our tracks while on a tour of the Savannah College of Art + Design, his alma mater. [Shown below: “Seascape #5”, “Seascape #4” and “Desert #1.”] Click here for his website.
NIKKI GALAPON, Richmond, VA | Artist
Contemporary and abstract artist, Nikki Galapon is a former architecture school classmate from the Virginia Tech days. Her maps series, our favorite, layers pen and ink sketches and color over vintage maps. [Shown here: Boston and Lower Manhattan] Click here for her website.
Today is Rush and Judy Dixon's "Relocating to Charleston" anniversary and Clark + Menefee (a brilliant but now disbanded architecture firm) is, by and large, to thank. The makings of this inspired chapter of two interns coming to this magnetic city started with a third year assignment at Virginia Tech's College of Architecture and Urban Studies. We were to visit an off-campus piece of architecture, study/sketch/photograph the building's merits and report back to the studio. The Middleton Inn was chosen, which at the time had recently been completed, garnering press and design awards. It was liberating to read how an inn just steps from The Middleton Plantation was boldly modern yet rooted in historic and local contexts. The stucco walls, the chimney pots, the "Charleston Green" paint, wood shutters, the rigor of the floor plan and detailing of the guest rooms are still humbling after all years.
“We saw it as a chance to prove that modernism didn’t have to be strident or out of place, so we took careful pains to have that reflect touches of Charleston tradition,” Clark says.
[from Robert Behre's Post + Courier article in 2011 as the building turned 25 years old.]
That visit securely planted the Charleston seed. Future excursions showed us the charm of the historic city, its cosmopolitan and European soul, and the reality of how an historic city can be relevant in a modern world. Happy Anniversary indeed.
An architect's sketchbook is many things: a journal, a safe place to work through a design, a travel companion, basically an extension of our brain that we carry in our hand. Above all else, it is a way for us to document our thoughts and mental images to a tangible reality. The presence of technology in every nearly facet of our lives [computer renderings, BIM, emails instead of phone calls, even our grocery list is an app] makes it even more important for us to ground ourselves by putting pen to paper regularly. Our sketchbooks aren't perfect - there are a lot of scribbles, notes, emerging and discarded design ideas, fingerprints, ink smudges - but perhaps that makes it better. There is a "realness" inside a sketchbook; an intimate look at process or a moment in time.
This excerpt from the Sketchbook Curator Blog sums it up perfectly.
"It’s often the physical act of drawing that artists get inspiration from. It’s the openness of a blank page that gives all the freedom for the artist to draw, paint, paste, and damage. It’s those papers bound together that gives perhaps the disconnected, random sketches a sequence, narrative, or an identity as a whole. Sketchbook, either as private or public entity, is a space of freedom and expression for any artist; it is their companion and reflection of their identity."