This week we were lucky enough to steal some time from Andrew Gould, a partner from the New World Byzantine architectural design studio. If you’ve got a house that you want to look old, and you live in Charleston, South Carolina, maybe you can hire them! A lot of the people we’ve interviewed before work in a digital space, but these guys are totally concrete.
History Mine: How do you decide where to balance historical design with modern functionality?
Andrew Gould: I don’t see that as dichotomy, because I don’t consider my buildings “historical design” – I consider them “traditional design”. Architectural tradition is simply a loose cannon of sensible and pleasing ways that things have always been built. It is a broad cannon from which to choose inspiration, and the choice of which traditional materials and details I use is driven in large part by modern practicalities. For instance, solid brick buildings are historically prevalent in Charleston, but not practical to build nowadays due to earthquake codes. So I build from concrete block and stucco and use brick as accents. Even though concrete block is a fairly modern material, it’s still solid masonry, and still traditional if detailed right.
HM: The Mugdock Castle must’ve been an inspiring project. How does something like that come about?
AG: It’s an unusual story. My first building in Charleston was the Orthodox church I designed in the I’On neighborhood – a prominent new-urbanist development outside Charleston. The developer wanted churches in his subdivision so it would function as a traditional town. Well, that developer also wanted to get an Episcopal church in there, so he bought a deconsecrated historic stone church on Sullivan’s Island, a few miles away. He planned to move the building to I’On, using a barge, but Sullivan’s Island enacted a historic district to prevent him from removing their building. Being stuck with the old stone church, he decided to renovate it as an estate for his family, naming it after the Scottish castle of his ancestors. He turned the church into a great hall, and needed to build an addition to house the bedrooms. And he wanted to it to be quite tall to get a view of the ocean. He was so impressed with the massive medieval architecture of the church I had designed in I’On, that he asked me to design his castle addition. He said he wanted it to look older than the Gothic church, so I did it in a sort of whimsical Scottish Romanesque style. It was a wonderful project because I was able to design every little design over the course of several years.
HM: As a European, I find that Americans are fascinated with history. Is this a reflection of the fact that America is still a very young country?
AG: At least with regards to art and architecture, I think the American obsession with history can be ascribed to our dearth of beautiful buildings. Most Americans live in very bland and artificial environments, and rather desperately crave some connection to historical beauty. Unfortunately, this is usually manifest in ridiculous commercialism, like Thomas Kinkade paintings and suburban shopping malls called Ye Olde Towne Centre. It is very rare in America for new buildings to actually revive tradition, and not just superficially reference it. So the few actual historic buildings and towns we have are treated with a lot of reverence.
HM: Leading on from this, would you agree if I was to suggest that part of what you are doing is reinforcing that early colonial history?
AG: Yes, definitely. In colonial times, America had really fine art and architecture. It was distinctive, not quite the same as European styles, and in many ways, better. It was something to be proud of. By building new traditional buildings I am encouraging people to identify with their cultural heritage – to think of it as something relevant – something that is still part of American life.
Fortunately, the revival of American tradition is thriving in many other fields, such as craft brewing and distilling, heritage cuisine, graphic art, folk music, etc.
HM: Do you have any current or future projects which particularly excite you? Could you tell us a bit about them?
AG: I’m working on a big Orthodox church in Greenville, SC. It’s interesting because it is Byzantine in form (cruciform with a dome), but all built honestly out of wood in the style of a Victorian American church. It’s an experiment in uniting the liturgical traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy with the building traditions of South Carolina, and I think it will be quite successful. I enjoy projects like this, which result in a building that is wholly traditional, and yet does not particularly resemble any building that was ever built before.
Thankyou Andrew, and please be sure to check out the New World Byzantine website.