Can you believe it has been 6 months since Andrés Duany sent shock-waves through the Charleston community?
During the week of March 9th, 2015 there was a series of meetings and lectures in which Duany shared his observations on the past, present and future of the Holy City’s Architecture and Urban Design. His firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company had been hired by the City of Charleston and the Historic Charleston Foundation to study the city's Board of Architectural Review (B.A.R.) and to determine why our new architecture is not better.
Duany really laid into everyone involved: architects, preservationists, nimbys, the BAR, the Clemson Architecture Center, the fire marshal and even our beloved Mayor.
It was brutal.
And very entertaining.
The following week I summarized the events in the blog The Week of Duany. At the very least, Duany’s trip to the lowcountry did wonders for my then infantile blog. I had a tremendous amount of traffic due to that blog and it still remains the most visited page.
It was a sign of how important design is to the Charleston community.
Well Mr. Duany returned to Charleston last week. He was in town to present the DPZ report: Revised B.A.R. Process for New Construction and Large Projects
Duany presented the report to a packed house at the Sotille Theatre Thursday, September 24th. It was a special meeting of the Charleston Planning Commission. I was pretty amped up and excited to see the next round of fireworks. I mean, who was he going to make fun of next?
Apparently nobody. Duany was on his best behavior. The report was presented. Questions were asked and it was extremely civil.
Oh well. He must have been given direction to keep it clean and quick.
Luckily I was able to sit down with Duany the next morning for a chat over breakfast. I wanted to hear some additional information on the report and insight on his thoughts for the future of Charleston.
This is not one of the questions, but I wanted to include it because this is a guy that is very quick to hand out insults. And on this particular occasion:
Andres Paid Me a Compliment!
SR: I’d like to ask you some questions about the report.
AD: Why are you so interested?
SR: It will be something that affects the kind of work I do. Also, the blog that I write is a resource for other architects and also for my clients.
AD: By the way, the blog you wrote was so incredibly accurate. It was very impressive.
SR: Thank you. I was just writing very quickly!
1. The 3 Most Things from the Report
SR: If there were one thing that the city were to adopt from the report, what would it be?
AD: I think it’s that those who come in with modern architecture should be supported. The critique should make their modern architecture better. And those that come in with a traditional architecture should get a sympathetic critique that makes the traditional architecture better.
What is happening is that you are getting a homogenization. And it's neither one or the other. So it tends to lack the character of the city.
The 2nd most important thing is that the architects here should work together to develop an architecture of Charleston. The way for example that Austin Texas did.
The 3rd thing is that you need an architecture school from Charleston. That is out of Charleston. That exports. The way that Barcelona exports the architecture of Barcelona. Like the way that Austin exports the architecture of Austin. Charleston is ready to export its architecture. Yes of course you needed 2-300 years of importation. But Charleston is now mature enough to export what it knows.
Yet it’s still importing. It’s importing architecture and urbanism from other places.
By the way, I don’t care about architects being imported. It is the architecture.
And the architects are not playing together to develop an architecture.
SR: It is interesting that you say that. It is very common to hear architects say: "Hey, we can’t do that....it looks too much like those other guys!" And at the BAR recently, the city architect criticized that “a lot of the new buildings are starting to look alike”
That should be perceived as a good thing! (laughs)
AD: That’s the best part of Charleston is things that are starting to look alike.
SR That’s the irony. Like the single house for example.
AD: Yes and stylistically. Now the expectation is that every building must be exceptional so you get a hodgepodge.
2. The Evil Zoning Envelope!
SR: Recently phrases like density and the zoning envelope have become bad words. How do we overcome that?
AD: Another thing is you need a new zoning code. The zoning code has nothing to do with the city.
SR: There are so many different zoning districts, for them to retroactively change them seems impossible. Recently I asked Jacob Lindsey about the likelihood of the existing height districts being rewritten as a story based system. He answered, that to retroactively change all of the codes would be a daunting task. And would be politically fraught.
AD: Well that’s what we do. I’m not looking for work. I’m certainly not trying to turn Charleston into a work site. But that's absolutely doable. Every city is doing that . You can’t live with a 1960’s ordinance. Especially a city like this.
3. Other Cities
SR: Speaking of other cities. What are other examples of cities tackling this issue?
AD: Miami just made a new code.
SR: What were some of the shortcomings of Miami’s code?
AD: Same as yours. There are dozens and dozens of other cities that have rewritten their codes to fit the character of their city.. New Orleans has just written a new code. It is a city just as good and just as complex as yours.
4. The Activation of the Nimby
SR: I suspect that a lot of this supposed crisis we are in has a lot to do with traffic?
AD: The crisis of angry neighbors and so forth?
SR: Yeah that…and the architecture. I mean there has been mediocre architecture around for a long time. Why is it now so critical?
AD: It is the activation of the NIMBY. It is the empowering of the people. That is new.
SR: We propose all different types of buildings. Projects that would appear to be perfectly harmless. Yet 30 people will come out in opposition. Or more.
There is a café and event space being planned for Hampton Park. A big park north of here…actually an Olmsted Park. It seems great to me, yet people talked as if their world’s were going to end. Because their park would be suddenly commercialized. There is serious opposition.
It’s almost comical.
AD: Well a lot of people making a living on that. I mean I could make a living getting elemental things permitted like that. But I refuse to. It’s a toxic kind of symbiotic relationship between trouble and the people who can maneuver you through the trouble. A lot of people making a lot of money of that. Lawyers, planning consultants, architects.
5. Recommendations For Charleston's Suburbs
SR: I know that you were not hired to look outside of the city. But I think that our lack of planning in the suburbs is more troublesome than our supposed crisis downtown. Do you have any recommendations for how we can better plan for our suburbs?
AD: Right now the good stuff is illegal. The suburban sprawl is (legal). I'On had to go all the way to the state supreme court. It was legal to build suburban sprawl. You need to equalize it. You need to make it possible for developers to do TND (Traditional Neighborhood Development).
SR: The current densities aren’t allowed?
AD: The current anything isn’t allowed.
So for people to do the right thing, they need to do a lot of variances. They need a lot of money and a they need a lot of courage.
SR: It’s easier to do the wrong thing (sprawl)?.
AD: Oh..it’s much, much easier!
6. Ask Duany
SR: One of the funny things that has happened since you were here, 6 months ago is that all different types of people are saying things like: "Duany said this, Duany said that." And recently the folks from the city have been referring to you as the consultant. Even my neighbor across the street said something about that Duany Guy. It’s really funny. What do you think about that?
AD: I should have a really big session called ‘Ask Duany’? I always tell the truth.
Like forget about killing gentrification. You’ll never do it.
7. New Charleston Architecture School
SR: This Charleston design school. That is very intriguing. What is it? Is it an actual building? Is it an accredited class?
AD: It’s happening. It’ll grow. Led by……(hesitated then didn’t say) There is a terrific need for a place like this to have an architecture school. Isn’t this a state with just one architecture school?
SR: Yes, Clemson. And then there’s SCAD.
AD: That’s ridiculous. There is no competition. No other state just has one school, I believe. Florida has like 10 or 12.
SR: So your goal or vision is an actual accredited university program?
AD: That’s 10 years out. Now it is starting a program. It is just getting started.
I don’t think accreditation and licensure is important. I think there is a new profession that is necessary. That is a profession of generalists. I take everyone that comes into my office and teach them to be generalists. I have to teach them codes. I have to teach them to think like developers. I have to teach them an agility of design that is not just about you. That design is political.
Aesthetics is a political act. Just like designing a poster. It is not a personal act. Nobody cares. Unless you are one of a dozen architects in the world, nobody wants your brand. It is political.
I think it is very important to know about infrastructure. You have to know about lighting. You don’t have to know about leather, but you have to know about lighting. You have to know about acoustics. Just a little bit. You have to know about how mullions can make a building look great, instead of just a box. You have to know just enough classicism to get the moldings right. Because it is unforgiving if you don’t. Just a little. Or at least know where to look it up.
You have to learn how to look it up.
SR: So you don’t think architects are already generalists?
AD: No, they are not. It is the opposite. And I really resent it. It used to be that I could re-educate people. But now I don’t have the means to do it. I don’t have the slack. The fees are too low.
So I have to hire people from other offices that are like mine.
That wraps up my interview with Andrés Duany.
Thanks to Andrés for his time and insight. I am eager to see what happens with the report. Hopefully the City can get it quickly passed and we can start incorporating the new processes.
Oh..and how about that report? I have read through the report and have boiled it down to: