Bluffton, South Carolina
The site is a magnificent high bluff canopied by a grove of mature Live Oaks and overlooking the broad tidal expanses of the May River in Southern Beaufort County.
A charming new village has been created here, the core of which is a central village green surrounded by a hotel, post office, church, restaurant, and various office structures. Following along the top of the bluff from the green to a marina is Boathouse Street, which will become the choice “front street” of the village, offering gorgeous views of the river. The architectural response to this daunting natural beauty is a stately row of mixed-use structures, set among the oaks, recalling the attenuated verticality found along the sunny East Battery of Charleston and around the shady squares of Savannah.
These tall structures contain luxury townhouses atop retail commercial space. Rather than to needs, this architecture responds primarily to desires: the desire for a spirit of urbanity integrated into a breathtaking natural setting; the desire to be part of an intellectually active town center with a diversity of structures and mix of uses found in old towns that developed over time; the desire to present an impression of dignity yet provide livable, intimate, private spaces; the desire for a dynamic human density balanced by conservation of the site’s natural features – specifically its Live Oaks.
The architectural consummation of these desires begins with the decision to employ a series of tall, narrow buildings staggered so as to side step the numerous Oak trees. The interstitial spaces resulting from this staggered pattern created opportunities for a rich tapestry of intimate private gardens and walkways. Whereas retail space is located at ground level and entered directly from the riverfront street, the dwellings are located above the shops on the second and third floors and are accessed by passing indirectly through the side yard walkways to discrete side garden entrances. A service street passes behind the buildings creating a “mews”, which provides rear access from carports and guest parking.
Diversity has been introduced into the architectural language by employing structures of varying heights with differing materials and roof forms. Stitching the composition together, however, is a unifying thread of brick masonry which runs through all the varying structures in the form of base foundation walls, garden walls, chimneys, carports, walkway paving, and in some instances as one and two story “dependencies”. The ubiquitous brickwork, along with careful articulation of human scale, creates a garden-like framework emphasizing the important, integral role of plantings and landscaping.
The singular achievement of this rich architectural composition is that of unity through both movement and diversity. Along Boathouse Row, patrician reserve is balanced by a risk-taking creative modernity.