In light of recent buildings proposed for Beaufort, we should consider Alexandra Lange’s advice from her book Writing About Architecture; “We should be talking about height and bulk, style and sustainability, openness of architecture and of process. Design is not the icing on the cake but what makes architecture out of buildings, what turns them into places we want to live and eat and shop rather than avoid. “
The first century Roman architect, Vitruvius, said, “a good building hath three conditions: firmness commodity and delight” or in our terms, structurally sound, functional, and pleasing. In recognizing bad design most of us are like former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in that “we know it when we see it”. In determining whether or not a design is good, The Royal Institute of British Architects suggest we ask the following questions:
1. What effect will it have on the environment? A great local example is the addition to the Beaufort Jasper Water Sewer Authority design by the Hilton Head firm FWA Group Architects. It received a Silver LEED™ Certification from the United States Green Building Council.
2. Does it give more than was asked? The Saint Helena Branch Library at Penn Center designed by Liollio Architecture from Charleston respects and embraces the local community and is so much more than a branch library. The firm says "The Gullah Geechee context is revealed in several aspects of the architecture, including the woven nautilus of the special collections area located at the heart of the library, suggesting the forms of marine life and traditional net making, raised wood “stomping” floor in the community meeting room that provides the percussion for sea island spirituals and the “tree” columns reflective of historic images of learning at Penn Center under the massive live oak trees."
1. Does it meet the test of time? The I. Pinckney Simons Gallery was designed by architect Bill Chambers of Beaufort to be timeless. The massing of the building fits into the streetscape with both the parapet and cornice addressing the heights of the adjacent buildings. The scored stucco exterior walls have a sense of permanence and the raised first floor will be resilient in a flood.
1. Does it delight and engage passerby as well as users? The former Lipsitz Shoe Store designed by local architect Rob Montgomery engages the public with the delightful side porch where you can always find someone eating ice cream or sitting in the shade people watching.
1. Does it represent value for money? An example of wasting money is the County Courthouse that was built in the late 1980s. The decision to save money and use exterior foam insulation system (EFIS) for the exterior skin of the building instead of a more durable material has caused numerous problems with mold and mildew. We are now spending more money to correct bad decisions made years ago.
If every public design review board and elected officials ask these questions, Beaufort County would be a better place because we would not have single purpose eyesore buildings like the now vacant Lobster/Garden or insensitive public buildings such as the main library that turns its back to Carteret Street.