Humane Principles of Good Buildings: Materials and Composition

For Preservation Month, the PSC is sharing two principles of good buildings weekly that can be observed and measured within the built environment. They are intended to provide touch-points for the conversation about architecture and the human response that it provokes. This study shows us how common characteristics of buildings have transcended stylistic, chronological, and typological boundaries, and contributed to the ongoing effort to “make our existence not only visible, but meaningful.”


High quality materials are the building blocks of good buildings and great places. The message of quality and durability inherent in long-lasting materials promotes the human perception of timelessness and continuity of place. High quality materials provide an expression of concern
for the quality of the pedestrian experience. For instance, masonry elements provide a particularly strong connection between human scale and the built environment. The size of a brick is directly related to the ability of a mason to lay it comfortably by hand. Therefore, we perceive buildings that have been assembled with human-scaled materials as the result of tangible human activities rather than as abstract or synthetic.

Materials also contribute to the perception of a building’s overall scale and texture. Individual elements of a known size, such as a brick, allow the observer to understand the total size and scale of the structure. The texture of the surface, together with its color, will affect its visual weight, scale, and light-reflective qualities.


Visual balance is a timeless principle in achieving success in an overall building composition. A fundamental tool for achieving balance is the use of symmetry. The human perception of beauty is found
to be influenced by the measure of symmetry within an individual composition. Psychologists ascribe this to the awareness that the body is basically symmetrical, so intuitively this principle is extended to other artistic efforts. Applied to buildings, this principle creates order within elements of a composition. In looking for symmetry, groups of architectural elements can most easily be read visually by the rooflines of a structure. Under each roofline, a composition is formed which is visually enhanced when symmetry is achieved. Minor variations to a symmetrical condition, for example a door that is balanced by a window of the same proportion on the other side, can occur while an overall sense of balance is maintained.


Virtual Preservation Hard Hat Tour: Hebrew Orphan Society

While you’re stuck at home, we would like to share with you some of our favorite places in Charleston. Join the Preservation Society every week, as we share a virtual hard hat tour through some of Charleston’s most fascinating buildings.

The three-story Neoclassical building at 88 Broad Street is believed to have been constructed as a residence between 1794 and 1804 under the ownership of Henry Laurens, Jr. When Laurens sold the building in 1804, it was “occupied by the directors of the Bank of the United States.” After 1804 the property changed hands several times before being purchased by the Hebrew Orphan Society in 1833.

Founded in 1801, the Hebrew Orphan Society provided relief to widows, and educated, clothed and maintained orphansof the Jewish faith. The building at 88 Broad was initially used for meeting space, offices and a school:

“During their occupancy the hall used for their meetings was on the second floor, the rooms on the lower floor apparently having been rented out for offices… For about five years, just at the time of the Confederate War, Hebrew orphans were housed there. The caretakers of the hall were given quarters there, and for at least 25 years, two of them conducted a kindergarten in this building.” –CharlestonNews and Courier, October 17, 1949, p. 12

After 98 years of ownershipunder the Hebrew Orphan Society, 88 Broad Street was sold to J.C Long in 1931.1934 HABS Survey documentation describes law offices on the first and second floor, a “rathskeller” or tavern in the basement, and bachelor quarters on the third floor. Between 1934 and 1975,interior alterations were undertaken in nearly every room. Notable changes included removal of the original interior stair, construction of a three-story stair tower in its place, and the excavation of the basement.


Virtual Preservation Tour: Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Cemetery

While you’re stuck at home, we would like to share with you some of our favorite places in Charleston. Join the Preservation Society every week, as we share a virtual tour through the diverse burial grounds of the Charleston Cemetery Historic District!

The congregation of Beth Elohim was formed in 1749 as the fourth Jewish congregation in the United States. The congregation’s first burial ground was established in 1764 on Coming Street. Another Jewish congregation, Shearit Israel, established a burial ground in 1857 on Mt. Pleasant Street in Rikersville, today the corner of Monrovia and King Streets. The two congregations amalgamated as Beth Elohim in 1866, and the Rikersville Cemetery was abandoned by 1888 due to issues with access and drainage. A tract of old muster grounds outside city limits on Huguenin Avenue was purchased from the Washington Light Infantry in 1887 to use as a burial ground, and by 1889, ninety graves and monuments were moved from the old Rikersville Cemetery to this cemetery. The Da Costa Jewish cemetery on the southeast corner of Hanover and Amherst Streets, established in 1780, was abandoned and the land was taken by the City of Charleston for unpaid paving assessments. The four surviving stones were moved to this cemetery. Likewise, the Harby Jewish cemetery, established in 1798 and unaffiliated with Beth Elohim, on the west side of Amherst Street was taken by the City, and the seven remaining stones were relocated to this cemetery. In 1943, adjacent land was acquired, and in 1991 new gravesites were developed on the property that once belonged to the Standard Oil Company. Adhering to Jewish custom, most of the graves face east, so that when the Messiah comes and the dead are resurrected, they will be on the right path toward Jerusalem.


US Army Corps of Engineers Charleston Peninsula Flood Study

This morning, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released their draft report on the Charleston Peninsula Coastal Flood Risk Management Study for public review. Since 2018, the Army Corps has been evaluating a range of flood protections, from living shorelines to levees and walls, and is now putting forth their recommendations on long-term solutions for storm surge on the peninsula.

Map of proposed storm surge wall, courtesy of the USACE

What is it?
More commonly referred to as the “3×3” plan, this study is funded by the USACE at a cost of $3 million, over 3 years. Charleston is one of many communities engaging the Corps on this kind of study and will be competing for funding based on a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed projects. However, if Congress approves the plan, the federal government would cover 65% of the cost, while City Council would have to commit to paying the remainder.
USACE Recommendation
The Tentatively Selected Plan calls for a 12-foot storm surge wall along the perimeter of the peninsula (perceived height will vary based on ground elevation) and a significant breakwater structure offshore of the Battery, as well as relocation, buyout, elevation or floodproofing of individual properties. In total, the proposed project would cost $1.75 billion, of which the Army Corps would only contribute to the actual infrastructure, leaving the City on the hook to pay for any aesthetic or recreational features. 

Example of a surge barrier wall in New Orleans

Next Steps
The Army Corps is offering 60 days for public review of the report, primarily by digital means. Thereafter, the USACE will conduct a feasibility analysis of the selected proposal and then send the study to Washington D.C. for review by the Corps’ Civil Works Review Board. To meet the 3-year deadline, the plan must be finalized and approved by the Chief of Engineers by October 2021, when it will then be presented to Congress for funding consideration. 

The proposed perimeter wall would significantly alter the appearance of Charleston’s most iconic historic places, like the Battery

The PSC’s Take
This is the single largest infrastructure investment in Charleston’s history and would require the readjustment of all other flood-mitigation priorities from a funding perspective. The cost share for this project would potentially put a $600 million burden on the City, when $2 billion of existing flooding infrastructure needs have already been identified from West Ashley to Johns Island. It is important to note that the proposed system is focused solely on storm surge and provides little protection against storm water inundation or sunny day, high tide flooding. The PSC feels careful consideration must be given to the City’s return on investment for this undertaking. 
We also have great concerns over the impacts of this project on Charleston’s historic and natural resources, residential quality of life, and heritage tourism industry. While the plan provides long-term protection for the majority of the peninsula, it also acknowledges adverse impacts on historic and archaeological resources, as well as our city’s visual character. For residents and visitors alike, how will a 12-ft wall alter the quality of our experience of Charleston? At this point there are many questions to be answered to understand the implications of this proposal for our city’s future.
Based on the incredible cost and impact of this project, coupled with the extensive list of unknowns, it is imperative that this project proceed at a responsible pace to provide extensive opportunity for community education and input. The timeline as proposed does not allow for sufficient community engagement, and the PSC calls on city leadership and the USACE to extend the public review and comment period to 120 days and undertake a comprehensive educational campaign to fully explain this complex plan to the community. As this project progresses, we will work to ensure that the public has the information necessary to understand the details of the proposed approach.

Review the Army Corps Plan and submit comments here by June 19, 2020. Alternatively, comments can be mailed to the USACE Charleston District Office at 69 Hagood Avenue, Charleston, SC 29412. 


Virtual Preservation Tour: Saint Lawrence Cemetery

While you’re stuck at home, we would like to share with you some of our favorite places in Charleston. Join the Preservation Society every week, as we share a virtual tour through the diverse burial grounds of the Charleston Cemetery Historic District!

The first Catholic congregation in the Carolinas and Georgia was organized in Charleston in 1789 as St. Mary’s Catholic Church. In 1851, Bishop Ignatius Aloysius Reynolds bought approximately eighteen acres of Magnolia Umbra Plantation for a burial ground to form the first cemetery founded aft er Magnolia within the bounds of the District. In 1880, the diocese expanded St. Lawrence Cemetery through the acquisition of a portion of the adjacent parade ground from a state militia unit known as the Board of Field Officers of the Fourth Brigade. In layout, St. Lawrence is atypical of the rural cemetery because its center road and divergent pathways are laid out in right angles rather than the winding paths of Magnolia or the soon-to-be-founded German-American Bethany Cemetery. While the symmetry is imperfect, the shape of the St. Lawrence parcel bears a certain resemblance to the spatial arrangement of a typical Catholic church, which is often based on the shape of the cross.


Cruise in the News

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a tremendous increase in global press coverage surrounding the cruise industry’s impacts on public health, providing a unique opportunity for Charleston to compare notes with our sister port cities. Around the world, the cruise landscape is rapidly changing: ports are denying entry to incoming ships, countries are struggling to accommodate infected passengers and crew members, and cruise companies are grappling with the financial consequences. 

The Ruby Princess in Sydney Harbor, photo courtesy of

At the center of the crisis is Carnival Cruise Corporation, which serves roughly 50% of the global cruise market under 10 cruise line brands. Carnival ships have had highly publicized outbreaks of COVID-19, including those on the Diamond Princess and Zaandam. In Australia, circumstances surrounding the decision to allow the Carnival Ruby Princess to dock in Sydney is under investigation. Despite many passengers displaying symptoms, 2,700 individuals were able to freely disembark the ship on March 19 – 660 of whom later tested positive for the virus, with 15 deaths to date. 

The Carnival Sunshine docked at Columbus Street Terminal, courtesy of the Post & Courier

In Charleston, conversation has centered around our own Carnival cruise ship, the Sunshine. Despite strong warnings from the Center for Disease Control, 2,441 passengers were able to disembark the ship on March 16 without being screened for signs of COVID-19. Now docked at Columbus Street Terminal for the foreseeable future, the Sunshine serves as a visual reminder of not only the risk posed to the health of our community, but to our environment as well. In recent weeks, there has been significant outcry over potential pollution from the Sunshine, including scrubber discharge and exhaust emissions that threaten both air and water quality. 

Although most major cruise lines have voluntarily paused operations until mid-May, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a no-sail order on April 9 that will further delay cruise activities from resuming. Pointing to over 10 cruise ships in recent weeks that exacerbated the spread of the virus, the cruise ban is to remain in effect until COVID-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency. 

The directive to cease operations coupled with less than favorable public perception has placed cruise companies in a very difficult financial situation. The ultimate fate of the cruise industry will depend on the duration of the pandemic and people’s willingness to board the ships that have now become grim symbols of contagion. Experts predict cruise travel will be forever changed as a result.   

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the far-reaching impacts the cruise industry has on our city and region. The Preservation Society feels this is the right time for the community to take a step back and reassess the role we want cruise to play in Charleston’s future. 

As other communities around the world grapple with the same question, here is a snapshot of recent local, national, and international headlines covering cruise issues during the COVID-19 pandemic: 


Virtual Preservation Tour: Bethany Cemetery

While you’re stuck at home, we would like to share with you some of our favorite places in Charleston. Join the Preservation Society every week, as we share a virtual tour through the diverse burial grounds of the Charleston Cemetery Historic District!

Bethany Cemetery was established by St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1856. The congregation was founded in 1840 by German immigrants who wished to worship in their native language. In 1841, the church developed its first burial ground on Reid and Amherst Streets. Known as Hampstead or God’s Acre Cemetery, the cemetery quickly filled due to the increased number of deaths caused by yellow fever outbreaks. In 1856, the church purchased lands within the Village of Magnolia Umbra for the creation of a new burial ground dedicated “Bethania” or “Bethany” Cemetery. The oldest portions of the graveyard, located near the entrance gates, refl ect the styles and patterns of the Rural Cemetery Movement of the mid-19th century. Much like Magnolia Cemetery, these sections feature curving and winding thoroughfares that were likely covered in crushed oyster shells. Along these paths, elaborate Victorian monuments are incorporated into the landscape. Modern sections follow more grid like paths. In 2009, the remains of 437 people previously buried at the original cemetery on Reid Street were reinterred at Bethany Cemetery.