If you’ve been to Charleston, South Carolina–(home to the College of Charleston)–you’ve likely heard about/seen the typical Charleston house, which has a porch alongisde the entire length of the building (on two floors). The slideshow images above were snapped on a walk I just took around the downtown area–gotta get out of the office sometimes (In one of the shots you can see that the porch has been retained for show near the front of the house while the back section has been walled in as extra interior footage). The porch is marked by a ‘false door’ or sorts, which in years gone by was left open to signal that visitors were welcome (well, that’s what they tell you on the tourist carriage tours at least).
I was thinking about what was said in a recent lecture here by a self-proclaimed New Urbanist who came to speak at the College (here’s New Urbanism in a nutshell, and a New Urbanist site)–which was [take it with a grain of salt]:
this particular New Urbanist always tells Europeans that they shouldn’t leave their tours of the United States without first visiting Charleston, that while (in general terms of course) in Europe there are magnificent public spaces (walkable areas, broad avenues, parks etc.) and impoverished private spaces (apartment-caves with little light, little room, etc.), and while the United States is lacking in rich public spaces (strip malls, car culture predominates), but has rich private spaces (well, McMansions or the North Dallas special type construction of home, built for comfort, light, etc.)–Charleston has the best of both worlds–public and private spheres.
It follows from this contextualization that the Charleston architectural style, with its porch as an open habitable space between public and private (to use this binomial characterization that has been questioned by many…) typifies this connection…
All in all, happy to call Charleston home, and we’re happy to have an upcoming talk at the College by Dr. Sonia Hirt [who was not the New Urbanist discussed above, but who has done some research on New Urbanism] on “Jane Jacobs and Urban Knowledge” (flyer below with clickable links).
Interest in Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) is hardly on the wane… a new scholarly edited volume on her legacy is due out this year (2012) titled The Urban Wisdom of Jane Jacobs edited by Diane Zahm and Sonia Hirt and featuring an essay by Saskia Sassen. There’s also an instructive/educational video with a similar title Jane Jacobs’ Urban Wisdom (It is fairly basic, but includes interviews with Jacobs).
Although the notion of the city as an organism had been used by 19th-century planners (Haussmann, Cerdà), Jacobs recuperated it while arguing that the city was too complex of an organism to be reduced to a static plan. See her classic work The Death and Life of Great American Cities.