Monday, October 30, 2006
The Charleston Charter for Architecture
Written by the Charleston Council in Randolph Hall at the College of Charleston in March 2005.
In the 21st century, we need cities, towns, neighborhoods and buildings that are sustainable and affordable. Beset by social and economic problems so powerful that the way we live threatens to destroy the globe, we need to reclaim the art of making lasting places that attract us with their beauty and their hope.
If we do not change the way we build, we may perish. Our towns and cities must become walkable and green. Our buildings must be more about the needs of society and community and less about the designer’s ego. We need places that combine the memory of the past with hope for the future, in a just and equitable present.
Therefore we, a diverse group of architects, designers and builders, have come together in Charleston, South Carolina to declare the following.
Basis for Agreement
Architecture and urban design should grow from and speak to the common roots and universal principles of nature and human nature in all cultures. We need to restore reverence for the grace and beauty of nature and the works of civilizations.
Architecture arises from the experience of life in the community. It creates a setting for community life in buildings, neighborhoods and landscapes.
Urbanism and community are built over time. Architects must respect the accomplishments of the past and learn from what has worked in the creation of place.
The city and the common good are more important than the individual building. The public realm is the physical manifestation of the common good, and the making of a beautiful, equitable and sustainable public realm is the first role of the building.
Buildings must be durable, economical and environmentally efficient. Durable means not only that they are built from long lasting and renewable materials, but that they are places we love, worthy of our attention and care over time. Beauty is essential to that goal.
Good building can not by itself solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, social well being, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.
For fifty years, we have emphasized the “architecture of our time.” The result has been destructive to our cities, towns and neighborhoods. The failed architecture of our time must be replaced by an architecture of place.
It is essential for our communities that architecture is practiced as a collective endeavor rather than for the glorification of designers’ individual visions. The best urbanism is the result of many designers working in sequence.
It is essential that we work with the construction industries to improve their products and the cost of building. For decades, the builders of module housing and mobile homes, the makers of building materials, and the development companies that build the majority of places where we live and work have operated without the services of the best designers.
It is essential that we work with the civil engineers, traffic engineers and landscape designers who have been responsible for the shaping of so much of the built environment.
Design schools have a responsibility to teach a body of knowledge that can produce the communities and buildings we require. In place of an architecture of experimentation, we need an architecture of success. Instead of a system of fashion and Starchitecture, we need a system that produces community and place.
Architecture schools need to be liberated from the thrall of sociologists, linguists and theorists whose work is not based in practice. Those who are primarily dedicated to other disciplines should depart to their own departments from which they can continue to educate architects in proper measure. The nihilism and relativism taught in many of these fields have undermined architecture’s potential as a social and environmental instrument for the good and thereby damaged society.
Architectural history should include not only the form givers, but also the masters of urbanism and urban policy, so that talented students may be exposed to models other than the heroic genius. Municipal planning, policy and administration is sorely in need of good architects.
The wall between architectural history and the design studio must be eliminated. The creation of good places is always part of a living continuum. The great achievements of our predecessors are the surest basis for progress in the present and success in the future.
Students must participate in an apprenticeship system as part of their learning.
Schools need to teach the art of building through exposure to craft.
Much of the craft of building has been lost. It is therefore necessary that the best architects devote a portion of their time to its research and recovery, and to the sharing of the fruits of this endeavor by teaching and writing.
Buildings must incorporate authentic progress in material and production methods, but not for the sake of innovation alone. Too many failures of the architecture of the second half of the twentieth century have been the result of needless experimentation.
Graphic technique should not determine the design of buildings. Computer-aided design must remain an instrument for the liberation of labor and not become a determinant of form. The fact that a shape can be drawn does not mean it should be built.
Architects must harness the systems of production that make the best design available to the greatest number. Artifacts that can be reproduced in quantity are required for our present needs: in the present time we have the challenge of great numbers.
The techniques of mass production are required for the process of building, but it is not necessary that they determine the form of the building, or the city.
When the surrounding context is worthy, architects should respond to that context. If the context is unworthy, the proper response is to create a good one. Not until this is common will the proliferation of architectural review committees and historic preservation regulations cease to bedevil both good and bad designers.
Architectural character and expression must include the cultural and climatic context no less than the will to form of the architect. It is also necessary to acknowledge the opposite: architectural influence of universal elements can travel along cultural and climatic belts to positive effect.
Buildings must incorporate passive environmentalism in siting, materials and the performance of their mechanical elements.
Traditional and contemporary architectural styles must have equal standing, as they represent parallel realities. They may be used badly or well, but their evaluation should be on the basis of their quality and their appropriateness to context, rather than to fashion.
New construction in historic settings, including alterations and additions to existing buildings, should not arbitrarily impose contrasting materials, scales, or design vocabularies, but clarify and extend the character of the place, seeking always continuity and wholeness in the built environment.
In recent times, architecture and urbanism have been harmed by the influence of a handful of critics and publications that value the work of a self-proclaimed avant garde over the creation of beautiful, sustainable places. In the 21st century, architects who value the creation of place must reclaim public attention and support.
Architects must develop an unmediated voice in the press and explain their work themselves, if necessary.
Architects should endeavor to publish their work in the popular press. As professionals, we have the power to eliminate the undue influence of a small number of critics. Such critics are empowered only because they are recognized as such by the architects themselves.
Architectural historians should not be confused with the polemicists for the avant garde. Historians earn their standing through research and documentation rather than through ideological preferences. They support the knowledge base on which architecture stands and from which it evolves.
Like preservationists, when working in existing towns and cities we should first do no harm. Environmental problems demand that we use and recycle the resources in our cities, towns and buildings. The spread of placeless sprawl is a waste of resources and energy that can no longer be sustained.
For the good of our cities, towns and neighborhoods, architects must retake the responsibility for the creation and preservation of urban form, abandoned to the statistical concerns of zoning, building codes, traffic and engineering.
Architects must participate in politics and policy to affect the built environment at the largest scale. A disaster of the 20th century has been the creation of planning policy without the participation of designers.
Like other professionals, architects must donate pro bono work to those who do not otherwise have access to professional services.
Architecture must produce places where we can afford to live. It must accommodate the imperatives of economics without being consumed by them. It is a role of architecture to tame commerce and elevate it to art through the creation of place.
We should not impose untested or experimental design on the poor. The likelihood of failure in such cases has proven to be too great, and the poor are powerless to escape its consequences. Experimentation is for architectural patrons, who can afford to do what they want, including fleeing their own failures.
Architects must hone the human scale in their designs, remembering that it is humans whom we serve and whose environment we are creating. Buildings and spaces that alienate or intimidate those who live or work in them, or the pedestrians who pass among them, are inhumane and anti-social.
The words "shall be differentiated from the old and" should be removed from the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation, as follows:
9. New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work
shall be differentiated from the old andshall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.
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The intent behind the phrase "shall be differentiated from the old" in the Standards is meant to prevent the creation of false histories. It was not meant to encourage lack of context, walkability, etc., as this blog implies, although one could argue that this has been the unintended effect. A better phrase might fully recognize this fact: "The new work shall not create a false sense of history..."
Remember the NPS was, and in large measure still is, run by historians that privilege information and historical values above all else. Still, there is a danger that in creating "copies" of the past, the public may be confused about differentiating the "real" from the "unreal." This argument goes back to Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc's position that an intervention should create a past that never existed, as long as it's an improvement. The NPS's position is far more Ruskinian in its reverence for the voicefulness of the past.
Posted by: Jeremy Wells at Oct 31, 2006 7:05:34 PM
What does "a false sense of history" mean?
Posted by: john massengale at Nov 1, 2006 12:39:05 AM
According to the NPS, a false sense of history is created by "adding conjectural features, features from other properties, or by combining features that never existed together historically. ... Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use." (see the range of Standards at http://www.cr.nps.gov/local-law/arch_stnds_8_2.htm)
For example, in the extreme, I could create a gothic revival house that perfectly follows Downing's designs, but doesn't match any house that actually existed. Would a visitor from today be fooled into thinking that this "new" house is really the genuine artifact? One could even build patina into the construction to add instant age value.
A more realistic example might be an addition to an existing historic building. Let's say that this building is in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. I could create the addition such that it incorporates not only the same stone of the building (from the same quarry), but duplicates the original design in every detail, complete with a plethora of Syrian arches. A visitor viewing the new composition may be fooled into thinking that the new addition is in actuality contemporaneous with the original.
The core of this argument is based on authenticity: what is the genuine and what is the copy? It is a theme that is well addressed by art conservators (see Paul Philippot, Cesare Brandi, Giovanni Carbonara).
My personal belief is that there has to be a balance. Traditional design before the modernists liberally borrowed from the past, but usually didn't create exact duplicates. Hence, one can differentiate an early 19th century neo-classical building from one built in the 20th century even though both share many of the same aesthetic features. This precedent, however, could be used to justify a return to past methods of incorporating such design into new construction. It is quite possible that the National Park Service is too strict in its interpretation, but the most important point is that it is an interpretation.
Posted by: Jeremy Wells at Nov 1, 2006 3:46:00 PM
I'm sorry, but I'm sitting here trying to think of a compelling reason why an addition to an older building shouldn't be theoretically capable of fooling an onlooker into thinking it's original, and I just can't. These are buildings, not paintings.
If it's that earth-shatteringly important to keep unwitting onlookers from thinking that an addition to a building is part of the original design--and, again, I am unable to conceive of a reason why it would be--then can't we put a small plaque on the addition listing the date on which the work commenced, or something?
Posted by: Daniel at Nov 10, 2006 7:21:19 AM
Christopher Alexander talks about preserving the 'wholeness' of an existing or latent structure (see his latest, 'The Nature of Order'). This goes deeper than merely preserving the historic built fabric for its age, cultural values or cuteness. This wholeness is then transformed over time into a harmonious new 'whole' in a process similar to the evolution of vernacular architecture. Sometimes the wholeness values and heritage values will coincide but not always. I believe this is a healthier way to heal our built environment than obssesing about falsification of the artifact which is really a modern idea. If the academics need to idenify later additions and alterations, as-built records can be kept and subtle clues can be built in to avoid the dreaded problem of conjecture.
Posted by: Wilfred Ferwerda at Nov 20, 2006 5:23:05 PM