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No welcome mat for new School of Architecture

Ansonborough to Clemson - Drop Dead!
Warwick Jones, Editor, who resides in Ansonborough

It was not a happy meeting. Clemson University said it wanted to be a good neighbor. It would listen sympathetically to the wishes of the neighborhood. No, the new building for the School of Architecture was not going to look like the winning design of the recent competition. It promised a first class building.

Thank you, said the neighborhood and others that attended the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association's monthly meeting on Wednesday evening. But really, we think that where you plan to build your new school in Ansonborough is inappropriate. We think you should go elsewhere. And secondly, if you were to build, we would not want a modern building. We want something that is compatible with the historic ambience of Ansonborough.

Clemson to Ansonborough - Same to you!
It was clear as the meeting progressed that despite the offers of being a good neighbor, Clemson had no intention of backing away from the site. Nor was it intending to build an historic-looking structure. It categorically said that it would not commit to an historic looking structure. What was erected would be "of the time".

The audience at the meeting probably amounted to about 70. The majority was from Ansonborough but there were representatives of other neighborhood associations and from Save the City. All spoke against Clemson's plan. Representing Clemson at the meeting was Ms. Schach who was Director of the Clemson Restoration Institute.

School would have enrolment of about 40 students
In her presentation Ms. Schach spoke of the plans for the new School. Three years ago, the City gave Clemson land on George Street, opposite the newly renovated Spoleto Building. On this site, the university planned to erect a building of about 20,000 sq ft with 3600 sq ft of classroom for about 40 students, but space for exhibitions and for use in conjunction with Spoleto would also be included in the building. Architecture would be the main course but there would be others such as restoration of historic buildings. Understandably, Charleston is ideal for such a school, because of the many historic buildings in the old part of the City. There would be only one full-time faculty member. Most of the other lecturers would be visiting or "adjunct" professors. At any time there would not be more than 50 school-related people in the building. The City ordinance requires a car space per 100 sq ft of class room space. Consequently, the School would be obliged to provide parking for 36 cars. Only 15 would be provided on site, the balance would have to be somewhere else.

The School would be open 24/7 according to Ms. Schach. Nobody need worry about the quality of Clemson architecture students, she said. They were strongly academic and committed to a high standard of behavior. And as for potential parking problems, she expected that many would be living close to the school and would indeed not bring cars.

School would be better located elsewhere
Mike Fredericks, representing the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association echoed much of the feeling of the audience when he said that he was happy that Clemson wished to set up an architecture school in Charleston. He could see the benefits and was very supportive. But Ansonborough and the chosen site were not appropriate.

A modern building was not appropriate
Mr. Fredericks also cautioned against the construction of any modern looking building. He instanced the sorry-looking "modern"construction in the City in recent times, all of which had passed through the Board of Architectural Review (BAR). Despite the assessment of this body, they were all scars on the landscape. He read some very complimentary comments that had been made in the press at the time of construction of a conspicuous new building. He challenged the audience to guess the name of the building. It was the old Charleston library which people now concede is a large eye sore. Beware of contemporary praise! How can we support a modern building when you consider what has been built in the City over the last 40 years or so?

Jack Simmons of Save the City also spoke. He too referred to the poor modern architecture that had been pressed on the City and how the historic fabric was being eroded. Amongst the offending designs he instanced the new College of Charleston Library, the Jewish Studies Center, and the Eckerd Drug store on Calhoun Street.

A HANA member, an architect, confessed to her love of modern buildings. But she said, not in Ansonborough with its historic ambience. Why not look for a place on Ansonborough Field? A modern building would be appropriate there? And it still would be close to the College of Charleston which Clemson desires.

World class firms?
Perhaps the most electric comments were those of a new Ansonborough resident, who is an architect with a practice in Florida. Mr. Jim Scott referred to the recent design competition. He said that Ms. Schach may consider the firms that entered the competition as world class. But he had conducted a survey amongst his architect friends and they had never heard of any of the firms. And as for their designs, they were pedestrian, not world class. He was very critical of the winning entry and illustrated to the audience why this was so.

He went on to say of how leery he was of academic architects. They were lucky if they had built only even one building in their lifetime, and if they did get a chance, they'd make it showy so as to not waste the opportunity. Clearly, after looking at the results of the competition, his fears had not been allayed.

No decision yet on final plan
Ms. Schach said that no contract had yet been signed with any architect for the design of the final building. The recent competition was more for concept than anything else and one should not read much more than that. The original panel of nine, which included Mayor Riley, Eddie Bello of the Cuty's Planning Department and Nigel Redden of Spoleto, would not be the final arbiters. The latter would comprise members of the University essentially.

Parking issues
HANA members also spoke of the crush developing in relation to parking, in particular from the proposed 71 condominiums at 27 George Street, the new College of Charleston basketball stadium, and the development at Ansonborough Field. Now there is the Architecture School.To these now will be added parking for the faculty and students of the Clemson school, not to mention parking for people who are attending functions in the schools exhibit space. Where will all the cars go?

A HANA member suggested that the school make a deal with the City for the retention of spaces in the nearby Gaillard Parking Garage. This was greeted with enthusiasm by Ms. Schach who went on to say that the fee the City might charge could be added to the tuition fee. The audience acknowledged that it seemed a very good idea.

Mayor Riley supports proposed plans and expresses surprise
In response to a letter from the President of HANA, who wrote to express displeasure of the neighborhood with the plans of Clemson, Mayor Riley expressed surprise at the opposition. He claimed that the plans for the Clemson School of Architecture had been in the public domain for some years now. (We checked Council records which indicate the properties were conveyed from the City to Clemson on January 13, 2003). He said that HANA had also been informed.

Nevertheless, present board members are unaware of any previous discussion with the City or Clemson. The Clemson representatives at the meeting last night made no claim to previous discussion with HANA. We would presume that if there had known of any, they would have spoken of them.

Council member Fishburne who represents Ansonborough on City council also wrote a letter of support for HANA's position.

"Trust me"
Ms. Schach ended her presentation with a plea for the residents of Ansonborough to "Trust me". Sorry Ms. Schach, our experiences in the neighborhood and the City do not allow us to trust anybody. We also remember the support that Clemson has given the City for the development of Ansonborough Fields, from the charette 3 years ago to the present. It has helped perpetuate the fiction that the majority of people, at least at the charette supported development. I think the audience delivered its feelings on trust very clearly after you made your plea.

Your Comments:

I attended the HANA meeting and this is one Ansonborough resident who doesn't have a problem with the Clemson plans for the lots on George...These plans have been on the books since I moved here some nine years ago, and NOW HANA is in a snit???
The neighborhood organization has developed such a strong reputation as being one-sided and negative, that most developers understand that whatever they propose, HANA won't like it, so why should they be concerned...
Any bargaining power the organization had from several years back has been squandered by not knowing which fights to pick and when to sit at the bargaining table...

Posted by: Rob Wood at March 23, 2005 03:44 AM

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