Contemporary Architecture in Historic Savannah

This is my very first blog entry.  I have done it. I have finally made the step into the blogosphere. So first things first, I feel compelled to give a little information about myself. I am a soon-to-be architect; that is, I am an intern, somewhat recently graduated and working toward my license. I work at an architectural firm whose specialty is public education.  I am currently finishing up the first project I have done almost exclusively on my own (with supervision of course). Granted I didn’t lead the design or layout…nor did I design the exterior aesthetic…entirely. Ok, so I was a CAD monkey, but this is still very exciting for me! I like to tell my friends (and their friends and anyone else in the immediate vicinity who couldn’t get away in time) that I put together the instruction manual. I mean seriously, this thing is huge. Not only was I given the chance to draw the building in the computer, but I also modeled it, as in 3-D, as in digital reality, as in awesome. Alright fine, stop snoring. I guess it’s time for something interesting.

One town in the lovely state of Georgia that I think every person should visit is Savannah. This place is a beautifully planned city that demonstrates perfectly the balance between urban and park space. What makes Savannah’s urban development so unique is not its geography or its demographic of people. Don’t misunderstand me, there are very diverse and interesting people. However the characteristic that really sets this city apart from all others is the grid layout. Now, before you start “pppsssshhhh”-ing or “oh please”-ing, let me point out the difference between Savannah’s grid and most others. While it’s true that many city centers are laid out in a regular fashion, few have a public green square EVERY OTHER BLOCK. Not only this, but in every square there are ancient and really MASSIVE live oak trees that overhang the street. Grab a mop, because I can sense your brain just melted! There is a reason why Savannah is home to Georgia’s largest art academy. The city is beautiful to behold.

Now being one of the oldest cities in the entire state makes it very difficult to get support from the local city planning department should one want to construct something new in the historic district. Even more difficult is getting support for constructing something contemporary; that is, it doesn’t adhere to the strict (though often very inaccurate) laws guidelines of, in this case, colonial architecture. This is why I truly admire the efforts of the Telfair Museum. While scouring the internet looking for places to visit in Savannah for a day trip with the wife, I came across the page for the Telfair Museum. What I found blew me away. On their site they showed an image of this breathtaking building with a full facade of glass and beautiful white surface stone. It had the appearance of perfection, as if it couldn’t have come from anywhere but an ineffable dream. Alright, I am an architect. Please excuse the occasional archi-gasms. Anyway, my immediate thought was, “Why didn’t I design that?” And then was, “I wonder if their firm is hiring.” And then, “I have to go see this place!” Finally it was, “There is no way that could be in the Historic District.” It turns out it was.

The building is called the Jepson Center, designed by Moshe Safdie, a well known architect from Israel. You would think being so white (the building, not the architect) would make it a bad contrast with the surrounding buildings, which are old and weather-worn. It may be the architect in me, but I felt it fit in perfectly. It’s sort of like putting a new diamond in an antique ring. The shine of the jewel, instead of dimming the setting, makes it shine brighter; and even though the blemishes are still visible, they are part of the perceivable character that makes it what it is, and makes it lovely. I could try to explain the character of the space, its height and color; how it makes you want to simultaneously run and jump, but also to sit and contemplate. These are personal to each visitor. However, I can tell you it was such a joy to see and experience that I almost forgot about the art, for the building to me is a form of art. It is an art form you can inhabit and, with the right perception, it inhabits you. My wife had to dissuade me from hugging it before we left.

Stairway from heaven

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2 comments

  1. Kelli

    This really is a beautiful building! Great photographs.

  2. Pingback: Inspiring People « The Impetus

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