Voices of Charleston – Beau Clowney & Kate Campbell

preservation-admin , January 5, 2022

By Courtney Theis, Acting Director of Advancement

Since our inception in 1920, the PSC has relied upon public engagement on issues that matter most for Charleston. The organization’s grassroots principles and community-driven activism still form the foundation of our work today. The Voices of Charleston series tells the stories of residents, business owners, and entrepreneurs along one of the nation’s oldest urban corridors. The range of backgrounds and perspectives reflects the diversity of King Street from the Battery to North Central.

Beau Clowney, a sixth-generation South Carolina native, and his business partner, Kate Campbell, have been prolific architects in the Lowcountry for decades. Their work is widely recognized for skillfully blending the old with the new, as well as paying homage to the Southern vernacular style. Kate explained, “I think the reason people come to us is that we create residential and commercial designs that speak to the architecture of Charleston, but work in a modern way.” She further articulated their approach to good design: “While we are not formal Classicists, our designs are inspired by classicism, paying attention to the scale, proportion, detailing and honesty of materials that make older buildings great.” Beau added that Southern architecture is grounded in traditions that go back to the Colonial period and relate to the climate and locale. He said, “These factors are ever-present in our mind when we’re designing. Even if it is new or modern, we are thinking of how the design can be integrated contextually.”

The partners emphasized the importance of context, juxtaposing their work with many of the large-scale developments rising on and off the peninsula. Many of these projects are criticized for their lack of attention to detail and non-contextual designs. Kate zeroed in on the seemingly problematic detailing and use of materials that may not be the best choice for the local climate and conditions. “Balconies are sagging three years later, there’s water infiltration – what are these buildings going to look like down the road? It is not sustainable.” Beau echoed her concern, noting the disruption and problems created by new buildings that must be upfitted, with façades and fenestration that must be replaced soon after construction. Kate added that it’s also important for the City’s zoning regulations to incentivize and streamline creative adaptive re-use and rehabilitation projects in order to attract better development opportunities that promote revitalization.

In concert with the large-scale development issue in Charleston, Beau and Kate are concerned about the growing impact of tourism on Charleston. Beau remarked, “I have no problem with increased density — that’s what cities are made of. But it’s important to keep a watchful eye on those developments related to tourism. There is a difference between a tourist city and a place where people live.” He supports the PSC’s advocacy for livability and strengthened tourism management.

For eighteen years, the firm has been based on Lower King Street in the Fort Sumter House, a 1923 hotel converted to condos in the 1970s. Beau said, “It’s a great location. I often refer to Charleston as one of the best laboratories for Southern architecture in the country, and it is wonderful being amongst all of these amazing houses in the context of the city.” From their perch at the foot of the peninsula, they have seen many changes to the King Street they once knew. As Kate said, “My family and I used to be able to go out to shop or dine on King; now we just tend to avoid it all together – there are just more people, and much less local activity.” Beau added that one way the Preservation Society can make a difference is to continue to promote local businesses and products on King Street and throughout the city.

Beau served as a PSC Board Member and worked with the former Director of Historic Preservation, Robert Gurley, reviewing BAR and BZA plans for the Advocacy Committee. In reflecting on his time on the Board, he said, “I felt like I had my finger on the pulse of what was happening in Charleston, and for that reason we stay connected with what the Preservation Society is doing today.” Kate observed that the PSC has been a partner and resource to the firm for BAR consultations: “The Preservation Society is good for this city, and I’m especially glad to see you continuing to expand off the peninsula.” The PSC appreciates the efforts of thoughtful design professionals like Beau Clowney and Kate Campbell as we work together towards better outcomes for Charleston and the Lowcountry.

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