Oh, I see! How inventive! You've actually stacked the boxes I am supposed to live in!

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Friday, October 29, 2010

A Connecticut Yankee oversees the city of King Charles II.

Charleston appoints new preservation architect, Dennis Dowd

Written by Robert Behre, The Post and Courier of Charleston   
Friday, 17 September 2010 
Historic homes near Charleston's Battery Park. Photo taken in March, 2005 by Frank Buchalski. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.Historic homes near Charleston's Battery Park. Photo taken in March, 2005 by Frank Buchalski. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Earlier this summer, architect Dennis Dowd, 58, gave up his private practice in Essex, Conn., to take a new job as director of Charleston's Urban Design and Preservation Division.

He will work with the city's Board of Architectural Review to consider demolition, renovation and new construction in the peninsular city, and he'll work with its Commercial Corridor Design Review Board to pass on new architecture along major thoroughfares outside the historic core.

He and his boss, City Planning Director Tim Keane, already are musing about ways to increase the design quality of what's built here.
They're aware that, generally speaking, much of Charleston's recent architecture has been met with a relative lack of enthusiasm, if not downright disappointment.

Dowd says it's great that so many of Charleston's residents are passionate about what architectural style is most appropriate for the city, even if local debates between classicists and modernists often produce more heat than light.

"I wish it happened in other cities as frequently and importantly as it happens here,'' he adds. "Ultimately, I think it results in better environments.''
Keane says Dowd was hired because of the quality of his design work.
Dowd has focused on preservation, including extensive renovations of the Forsyth Institute in Boston, a 1914 Beaux Arts gem now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, and St. John's Episcopal Church in Stamford, Conn.

One of his most admired new architectural works is the Living Rock Church in Killingworth, Conn., a simple vernacular design inspired by the many simple meeting houses and barns found across New England.
"The congregation built the project by themselves, which was a challenge,'' Dowd adds.

"What caught our eye immediately about Dennis was his building, his design work so clearly demonstrates someone that understands how to make a building that is, on one hand, contemporary, but, on the other hand, timeless and classic, a building that 100 years from now, everyone will consider to be beautiful but will also understand that it was designed and built in the 21st century,'' Keane says. "There are a lot of challenges around accomplishing that in Charleston, and unfortunately, we haven't accomplished that often enough here.''
Dowd, who got his architect degree from Syracuse University, promises to be agnostic about style, believing both classical and contemporary buildings can fit in here - if designed correctly. But Dowd also thinks the best contemporary design flows from classical principles about context, siting, proportion, scale and materials.

Dowd is no stranger to Charleston. He's visited here several times, and his son is a junior at the College of Charleston. And he's taking the job during a relatively quiet time. The current sluggish economy means fewer big construction projects are up for review, so he and Keane can take a break from putting out regulatory fires to look at the big picture of how the city reviews architecture.
Both think it could be good if owners and architects visited them earlier for a relaxed conversation about where they hope to build. What makes the street special? What could make it even better?
"There's what a lot of places in Charleston feel like to me - very European, and I really like that,'' Dowd says. "It's something to aspire to, not because it's 18th century architecture but because of the place that is created from the design work.''

On the preservation front, Dowd says he already has had an eye-opening conversation with the owner of a building on America Street who told him that if he were to follow the BAR's guidelines, he would spend more money on the property than it's worth.
"We don't want to reduce our standards,'' Dowd says, "but we want to find a way to help people in those situations rather than just letting the building sit there and deteriorate.''

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