Architecture of Place: Charleston and Climate Change

Uncategorized > Architecture of Place: Charleston and Climate Change

Charleston is one of the most charming cities in the country—just ask Conde Nast who has named it the number one city in the world for the ninth year in a row. But, as with most coastal cities around the world, Charleston is dealing with the effects of climate change and sea level rise. America’s first native born architect, Charleston’s Robert Mills, saw flooding as a major obstacle and recommended that a series of canals be dug throughout the Holy City. Unfortunately, his plan never came to fruition and Mills went on to Washington to become the nation’s architect and designer of the Washington Monument, the Department of the Treasury, and the US Patent Office. Had the canals been built as designed, Charleston could have possibly become the Venice of the West. However, we know that canals have not solved Venice’s flooding issues as the Piazza San Marco is often two feet deep in water during the autumn months.

Charleston’s city leaders have recently sought advice from the experts on dealing with flooding, the Dutch. When you live in a low lying area like Charleston, or the Netherlands, there is no place to drain water, therefore, flooding cannot be fixed but instead managed. In the Netherlands, where the entire country floods, they have dealt with it in some of the most creative ways such as designing the bottom level of parking garages and amphitheaters to intentionally hold water. In this country, we would refer to that as underground detention. Pumps and piping are not a sustainable solution. They recommended Charleston employ the use of rain gardens and other more practical methods of dealing with flooding. After a year of 28 major tropical storms, Charleston cannot ignore the threat of storm surge. Even though Hurricane Hugo is a distant memory to many, the people of Charleston remember its 20 foot surge as if it occurred yesterday. Storm surge is a continued threat and the sea walls around the city will be raised similar to Dutch dikes.

The things that have made Charleston desirable, such as its density, have also created issues of too many impervious areas. Houses in flood prone areas are being raised and no longer humanely address the street as they once did. The advice from the Dutch was to embrace the water and not to fight it. Find creative solutions that enhance Charleston rather than destroy it. Creech & Associates has been a leader in sustainable design since its founding. We search for practical solutions to problems. It’s another way we employ learned lessons from the past to provide for a sustainable future.


Photo Credit:
Dan Dickison, The College Today

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