Yale School of Architecture
The Gullah Geechee are a blended culture of West African descent who live in the Low country region of the United States. Today, their land is slowly being consumed by the new development of resorts and single family estates. The peninsula of Charleston reflects this displacement with census tracts going from 51.8% African-American and 45.2% non- Hispanic white in 2000 to 71.66% Caucasian and 24.57% African American today.
The hand labor requirements of growing rice led to the Southern states’ plantation era and plantation owners began to search for slaves
from the Sierra Leone Region who had significant expertise with rice farming. The isolation of these plantations has preserved the Gullah Geechee culture through time. The typical plantation plan demonstrates how an owner might organize buildings on the land. Quite the contrary to the Gullah Geechee’s preferred composition, these buildings are organized linearly. The unique physical form of the Gullah compound is strengthened by the close functioning of family groups. It is not uncommon to find multiple buildings centrally located on a piece of land, in an organic arrangement, with little to no obvious distinctions of property boundaries.
The first of the analytical maps of Charleston looks at the number of permanent gathering spaces for African Americans within the peninsula versus those that are primarily event based spaces. The existing condition and shifting demographics convey a critical need for a permanent gathering space within Charleston. The second map of Charleston looks for opportunities for product or cultural exchange. Currently, Gullah Geechee market stands will pop up in the corner of existing stores or hotels, in the small side of a building, and are limited in their participation in the weekly Marion Square Farmer’s market. Additionally, as out of towners are replacing locals in the peninsula, there are large gaps in the community services that exist for people on the peninsula. Without the right infrastructure, there are limited opportunities of cultural exchange and a lack of community assistance. When selecting a site within the Charleston peninsula for the project to manifest, the agenda was to being together both the existing community and the tourist public. The site in the Radcliffeborough neighborhood, a quickly gentrifying area, was selected for its easy access and its connection to both a community and the public through the near by visitor’s center.
In the formal realization of the project, the ground floor is quite porous to enable visitors to easily cross the site or to access the different programmatic pavilions. From both the King Street entrance and the St. Philip’s entrance, visitors are pulled through the spaces to interact with both architecture and landscape. The second floor level contains the majority of the programmatic spaces. The design allows users to move up, across, down, and through the site in a variety of circulation opportunities. Each larger pavilion connects to its smaller neighbor through a bridge, creating pedestrian paths above the ground level, as well. The public, arriving from the Charleston Visitor’s center, would experience the campus from left to right, as represented in the unfolded section. First, entering from King street, through the Visitor’s Pavilion, through the marketplace, to the Education Pavilion, through the gallery, to the Performance Pavilion, before exiting back toward King street. The community, entering from the Radcliffeborough neighborhood, would experience the campus from right to left. First, entering from St. Philip’s through the community lounge, to the Performance Pavilion, through the gallery, to the Education Pavilion, through the marketplace, before exiting back toward St. Philip’s street.
This projects seeks to reclaim a space for the community for gathering and celebration while also offering a connection between the community and the tourist public who might come to understand a more inclusive history. With multiple centers, varieties in scales, a sequencing of spaces, a completely open ground floor level, and an emphasis on landscape and movement through the site, this cultural campus is a living memorial that services, rather than simply signifying, a vibrant culture through opportunities of exchange and education.