Designing an Urban Oasis: New Student Housing in Charleston

McMillan Pazdan Smith | February 20, 2014

Designing on a tight site within an urban environment while meeting the aesthetic environments of Historic and Architectural Review Board parameters is a strength of McMillan Pazdan Smith’s community studio.  One example is a new multi-family property at 400 Meeting Street in downtown Charleston for Davis Property Group.

Drawing from the historic structures of Charleston, 400 Meeting Street is comprised of 42 college student apartments. Totaling 62,000 square feet, the two and four bedroom floor plans are designed to appeal to the students of nearby College of Charleston, Charleston School of Law and Medical University of South Carolina.

The buildings are arranged on the site to provide strong street presence  in what was at the time, an under-utilized area of Charleston’s historic district.  The larger of the two buildings (fronting Meeting Street) is four stories and the other is three stories (fronting a residential street). Parking for both buildings is located behind the main structure and is minimally visible from either street.

The Meeting Street building proportions, material placement and fenestration patters are inspired by the Charleston Single House typology of a building mass/porch/side yard rhythm that is prevalent throughout residential architecture in the city. The edges of the brick walls are extended to make a subtle play off the idea of scale along the busy street.

For the building fronting the neighborhood street (Nassau Street), the goal was similar but the result is  aesthetically different.  Nassau Street is comprised almost entirely of small residential structures, many of which are Charleston Single Houses.  Similarly, the Nassau Street building is broken into two smaller masses and uses forms and materials that more closely relate to the scale of the surrounding buildings.  As on the Meeting Street building, ipe wood slat walls screen the circulation zones and mark the entrances points to the building.

An exterior breezeway through the spine of the building provides circulation for the structure and is semi-screened by ipe wood slats, which allow for a dynamic interplay of light and shadows.

Interiors were created with the student lifestyle in mind. Each bedroom has its own private bath, units come fully furnished (including a flat screen tv and washer/dryer) and have access to high speed internet and cable tv service. A car-sharing program featuring hybrid vehicles is available to residents.

Knowledge specific to the City of Charleston’s building processes, a keen understanding of the urban aesthetic, and expertise specific to student housing preferences created a successful project.

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