Providing 55 affordable and enjoyable apartments for seniors — within one mid-rise structure — in downtown historic Charleston is not an easy task. Consider also a limited budget and a constricted site located within a high-velocity flood zone, and it may seem impossible. This is the challenge that McMillan Pazdan Smith, in collaboration with David Baker Architects, faced with the Williams Terrace Senior Apartments project. The early results are a testament to good design that will provide a wonderful, inspiring place for seniors to reside.
As the client, the Housing Authority of the City of Charleston issued a challenge to the design team: provide a “gracious” building for the seniors, one that celebrates and makes full use of the site, and is respectful of the specific needs of its residents. One particular issue, atypical to most multi-family structures, was to provide places where the residents would interact easily in order to build community. This was not to be your grandfather’s ordinary apartment building.
The first task was to address the site. Activating the street is a critical aspect of the public realm, so creating “people space” on the ground floor is important. However, because of the flood zone limitations no conditioned spaces are allowed at ground level. The architects solved this issue by isolating all parking to one third of the property, allowing for a central entry courtyard and a large, screened-in community room fronting the city park for the remainder of the site. Along one side, a shaded public sidewalk serves as an entrance to the building and a connection to the park, further enhancing the pedestrian experience.
The architects were determined have the building relate to Charleston’s historic structures without trying to replicate them. Since large, massive buildings are uncommon downtown, the massing of the building was broken into two pieces and centered around a Charleston-style formal courtyard. This allows the building’s volumes to be more in keeping with the sizes of Charleston’s structures and provides for large porches to front the courtyard, similar to historic piazzas common throughout the city.
Eschewing the common practice in multi-family structures of a long, uninviting interior corridor lined with apartment doors on either side, all circulation for Williams Terrace occurs on the exterior porches.
Seniors often feel isolated in apartment buildings, so the porches are deep enough to provide exterior seating rooms that encourage interaction among the residents. Taking a cue from the historic louvered shutters found on Charleston’s piazzas, sliding louvered screens will allow for the residents to adjust the amount of shade desired, depending on the time of day. This will create an ever-changing, dynamic façade.
Fronting a soon-to-be-built city park, the building will have views of that park, and across it to Charleston’s harbor. On the roof, an expansive terrace and community room will serve as an additional gathering place for the residents to meet and enjoy the views.
The building will be clad in brick with a limewash coating applied to soften the overall form and provide another link to Charleston’s historic past. Windows will have operable louvered screens, similar to those on the porches, allowing residents to control how much sun will enter their rooms.
The project received unanimous initial approval by the City’s Board of Architectural Review in June and is currently in the design development stage. Occupancy is set to occur in late 2014.