by James A. Bacon
I can’t overstate how important the creative use of small spaces is to evoking the aura of authenticity and charm that people love. As with so many things, small spaces-as-works-of-art cannot be managed from the top-down; it must burble from the bottom up. Each of the small spaces highlighted here, drawn from my recent trip to Charleston, S.C., originated as a work of passion and creativity by an individual property owner. Added to and improved incrementally over the years, they they form an impression that no central design authority — be it a municipal government or a giant private developer — could possibly replicate.
This series of photos was taken along King Street, a marvelous, walkable retail-restaurant district. Richmond’s Carytown is comparable, though definitely a poor cousin. I haven’t visited Old Town Alexandria in several years, but I recall similar street scenes. Otherwise, Virginia has nothing else that comes close.
King Street does many things right. It has many historic buildings, and recent redevelopment maintains the same sense of human scale. There are no blank spaces in the street — no large parking lots, no blank facades. Indeed, what stands out is the way property owners have made the most of every niche available to them. The result of many individual actions is a collective masterpiece.
The photo at left shows an oval porthole in a wall, also on King Street that reveals another enclosed outdoor dining area. This arrangement provides more privacy, yet still creates a visual delight for pedestrians.
Just one more example. Here is the entrance to the Peninsula Grill. Observe the elements: ironwork and a lantern, brick walkway, carefully tended landscaping and even a palmetto palm tree.
I could go on and on — the small spaces of Charleston could easily fill a coffee table book by a photographer far more worthy than me — but you get the idea. Any community that wants to create places where people love to live and visit needs to figure out Charleston’s secret sauce. Just remember: It can’t be imposed from above, and it will not arise overnight. Such places are labors of love. and they evolve over many years.There are currently no comments highlighted.