Charleston Architecture

Charleston Architecture Tells of the Holy City’s Rich History

There’s plenty of reason to put Charleston, South Carolina, on your “must visit” list. Its rich food culture, eclectic art and music scene, or its rich history. But Charleston architecture adds another great reason.

Charleston architecture pays homage to its sister city in Barbados

There’s no city that’s buildings tell such a rich story. Buildings pay homage to a British colony in Barbados (more on that later). Yet, the architectural styles range from stately Greek Revivial buildings to bright Art Deco homes that add a splash of color to Charleston’s streets.

For that reason, the Board of Architectural Review designated Charleston as a historic district. In fact, Charleston is the first city to earn such a designation.

A look back at the city’s history helps explain what makes Charleston architecture so special.

Surprising Beginnings

Charleston was founded by unlikely colonists. The British had set up a colony on Barbados in 1627. When the island began to run low on resources, they set off in 1670 looking for new land. They came upon this East Coast peninsula and named it Charles Town, in honor of the British King Charles II. The name later morphed into Charleston.

Because of that unique beginning, Charleston’s layout is almost identical to Bridgetown on Barbados. If you’ve been to both cities, you know that the similarities are uncanny.

Photo by Landon Martin on Unsplash

Rich Diversity of Styles

Visitors enjoying a stroll through the streets of Charleston will see history at every turn. As a thriving city for more than 300 years, it bears the mark of many different architectural periods and styles.

Gregorian: 1774-1820

These regal homes tend to feature two-story porches, stone arches, and rough-faced limestone trim.

Federal: 1776-1820

These more straightlaced buildings, influenced by the Italian Renaissance, flourished during the same time period but leaned toward classical elements on the exterior.

Greek Revival: 1840s

Stately columns lining the front of buildings give a strong nod to the iconic style of Greek architecture.

[Photo by Cameron Watkins on Unsplash]

Gothic Revival: 1840-1880

Americans don’t have to travel overseas to see magnificent examples of castle-like Gothic architecture. Stunning examples can be found right here in Charleston.

Italianate: 1837-1900

Explore architecture reminiscent of traditional Italian villas. These homes are made of stucco and stone facades. Their arched windows are long and slender. They’re complete with square cupolas on low-pitched roofs.

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Queen Anne: 1880-1916

These homes are coveted by many lovers of old architecture. They are characterized by wraparound porches, spindle work trimming, multiple gabled rooflines, and bay windows.

Charleston Single House

Since Charleston sits on a peninsula, its real estate space is limited. Thus, tall, slender, one-room wide homes became popular. The oldest example of these two-story houses dates back to the 1730s.

Art Deco: 1920s on

Geometric forms and modernist touches began creeping into Charleston architecture in the 1920s.

Art Deco comes in a variety of forms. But most examples have smooth facades made with Terracotta, aluminum, steel, and glass. Economical materials were the order of the day during the Depression and the years that followed.

A Walk Through Charleston

Charleston really does offer a skyline like nowhere else. Combine the gorgeous and varied architecture with delicious local flavors, and you’ll see why it’s considered one of the most art-rich cities in the U.S.

A short jaunt through the downtown area makes it obvious why it has been named a National Historic Landmark. If time permits, slow down and consider the stories that it all represents. People who lived, and loved, and worked to leave behind something better for their descendants.


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