It is extremely encouraging to read in the Charleston Post and Courier that Andrès Duany has been hired to help advise the city on how to improve its Board of Architectural Review. By approving a provocative modernist Clemson building in the city’s historic district, the board proved that it has lost sight of the goal for which it was created in 1931 – to protect Charleston’s historical character.
Fortunately, Clemson withdrew the proposal after massive objections from the community. But Mayor Riley may not be entirely familiar with Duany’s role in debates among the community of traditional architects.
The Charleston Post and Courier praised Duany’s hire in an editorial today. After noting his leadership of the CNU, it said: “He is also a proponent of New Classical architecture, which continues the practice of historically based traditional design, in contrast to the modernism that has met with such opposition on the lower peninsula.”
He is certainly a proponent of traditional buildings, but he is writing an ambitious treatise on architecture that, as he puts it, seeks to “capture territory” for classicism from modernism. He has not made it entirely clear what he means, and Charleston should pay close attention to the attitudes he takes into his six-month study of the BAR.
The last thing the city wants is a revised BAR charter that codifies the presence of modernism in its historic district. After all, the BAR’s willingness to push modernism into Charleston despite the clear wording of its own founding legislation precipitated the crisis that the city hopes to resolve, in part, by seeking the advice of Duany.
No doubt Riley hired Duany because of his reputation as a promoter of traditional architecture and urbanism. That reputation has arisen from his role as a founder of the Congress of the New Urbanism, which would not have been as successful as it has been at developing beautiful traditional neighborhoods throughout America if the rest of the world knew of the CNU’s “stylistic agnosticism” that Duany brags on so often these days.
I have every reason to trust that Duany does not plan to insert stylistic agnosticism by stealth into a rewritten BAR charter. He is a highly intelligent provocateur in the architectural style wars, but beyond that he is a highly intelligent entrepreneur who understands the needs brought to the table by his clients. Charleston is his client now, and Andrès Duany knows very well what Charleston needs.