I am writing this blog on a car ride to Atlanta for the AIA National Convention. So I apologize in advance for typos and other literary blunders. I am trying to get this thing posted before I arrive in ATL. So here it goes:
Not since Andres Duany shook up the Holy City with his plan for reworking the BAR has the Charleston community been so jazzed up about architecture. Tonight at the Burke High School auditorium a full-house laid witness to the Conceptual B.A.R. meetings for 3 significant developments. The Sergeant Jasper redevelopment project and 2 projects for the new West End District (formerly Horizon District) were on the agenda. All 3 projects are unique in scale for Charleston and equally interesting. But the project I am going to write about is the Sergeant Jasper Project. The Jasper is a project that my firm LS3P is working on and as soon the presentation was done, I hit the road for Atlanta. So I apologize that I didn't see the Horizon District Projects.
The fact that the city relocated this meeting from it's usual location to a high school auditorium that seats 700 people says something about these projects. These are significant projects that have captured the interest of many locals.
For people in Charleston, the Jasper needs no introduction. For people unfamiliar, the Jasper is a 4 acre development in Historic Charleston. The project includes 84 high end condos, 5 levels of parking, office and retail. The project tops out at 18 stories and 214'.
Tall buildings in our historic holy city are always controversial so this one at 18 stories is of unusual interest.
So here it goes. My highlights from the Sergeant Jasper Conceptual B.A.R. Meeting:
These buttons were being handed out before the presentation. I am a proud supporter of the proposed Jasper design and have no fear of tall buildings. But at the same time I also support hilarious architectural buttons. So I have quite the conundrum. #TornAboutButtons #BringingButtonsBack
Referee Erika Harrison
BAR member Erika Harrison served as the BAR chair which is a position normally held by Phyllis Ewing. It turns out that Ms. Harrison's main duty would be keeping the audience in check. During the introduction, Ms. Harrison reminded the crowd that "this is not a rally. There will be no booing, hissing, jeering....or clapping." I'll admit that I was disappointed to here that. I was looking forward to some good jeering. Jeering is great blog content. At one point, a few in the audience starting clapping at which point Ms. Harrison exclaimed "I think I was pretty clear about the no clapping!"......oh snap!
The 'Marvelous Kiwi'
Architect Joe Antunovich was the unexpected star of the evening. Mr. Antunovich is an architect out of Chicago and collaborated with the LS3P team in the design of the Jasper project. Antunovich presented the design and began by explaining his New Zealand roots as the extreme of Southerly. He did a wonderful job at presenting what is a very complex project. He had a very slow and deliberate presentation style that was extremely eloquent and convincig. In fact many of the folks that voiced opposition to the project were also very commendable of Antunovich's moving presentation. A presentation that had no shortage of the word "Marvelous."
The Ever-Growing Public Line
Since this venue required a microphone, the public were asked to form a line at the microphone if they wanted to voice their opinion. When the original line formed, I thought..."oh.....only 12 people...that's not too bad." But as someone would present and return to their seat, 2 more people would add to the back of the line. I guess people didn't want to stand for the entire time. And this kept happening. Over and over again. Then I was thinking...."uhhhh....I still have a 5 hour drive to Atlanta ahead of me." At one point Erika Harrison joked..."o.k.....this line keeps growing." Eventually the line ended. After 34 speakers!
The Elephant on the Postage Stamp
The one consistent comment among the opposition. The proposed design is just not appropriate for Charleston. It's too tall. One gentlemen concluded, "It is an elephant on a postage stamp!"
And just who was the oldest guy in the audience?
At one point, one gentlemen joked that he had just realized that he was the same age as the Jasper. And as a result had to look at it every day of his life. Which was followed by another fella who boasted that he was actually older than the Jasper. Bob Faust giggled that he was happy that he was not the oldest person in the auditorium.
Longest Charleston Resident?
As the competition for oldest man in the room heated up, a side bet for longest tenured Charlestonian was developing. One person commented, "I am a newcomer to Charleston. I have only lived here for 40 years."
Best Joke of the Night
One thing was clear. The folks that voiced opposition were very passionate and serious in their concerns. All 31 of them. It also turns out that many are also fans of comic relief and choose to inject a zinger or two in their speech. My favorite joke of the night:
After a very passionate patriotic speech about the Beach Companies' history and positive impact on Charleston, which has then impacted America and the WORLD! One lady questioned why the Beach Company was proposing this building at this critical juncture. "Why not do the right thing" she asked. I was picturing large American flags rolling down from the ceiling and fireworks going off. And then she quickly rattled off "But if the plan goes through, I want an apartment on top overlooking the sunset on the Ashley River." The crowd erupted.
The OppositionsSpeak Out at the Meeting - Supporters Write Letters
One interesting observation. 31 out of the 34 members of the audience that spoke were in opposition to the project. On the flip side, there were a good amount of letters written in support of the project.
The City Says:
Tim Keane and Dennis Dowd both spoke and were generally in support of the project. They described it as a very unique project and that the proposed design was appropriate for this site. Although they both agreed it was just too tall. They recommended that the height of the tower be restudied.
And the Board Says:
The board in many ways echoed Tim and Dennis's sentiments. All were commendable of the detailing and quality of design. But again...they all agreed that the residential tower was just too tall.
A motion is made! Wait...what's that motion? Can you repeat that? One more time?
After a pretty short deliberation, Janette Alexander made a motion to defer the project on the merits of Height, Scale and Mass of the 18 story residential tower. Ms. Alexander described that the architectural direction of the project was approved and that the lower mass of the building was appropriate and also approved. It was specifically the residential tower that needed further study. Unfortunately Ms. Alexander had to repeat her motion about 3 times before it was clear enough to go in the books.
Bob Faust and Jay White voted nay; Janette Alexander and Bill Wallace voted yay;....drum roll........and the deciding vote.........Erika Harrison votes yay. And the yays have it.
The result of the meeting seems to be a bit of a compromise. The project was not denied, but it wasn't approved. Maybe thats how it should be?
I will admit that I have kept this post light and had some fun with it. Tonight I witnessed a very passionate Charleston crowd. A crowd that only wants the best for it's City. And a crowd that knows when to have a good laugh. Architect Joe Antunovich made a point to end his comments with a thank you to the crowd for their wonderful civility. I'll have to admit, the blogger in me was a little disappointed in the lack of theatrics. But the Charlestonian in me was proud to be a part of such a dignified city.
But a couple of jeers couldn't have hurt!
Steve Ramos, AIA
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