Last week, our local news agregator/daily newsletter GVLtoday posed the question “What is Greenville missing?” on their Facebook page. 545 comments later, our own John Boyanoski’s answer “unique architecture in our new buildings downtown” at 51 reactions was one of the top liked answers without a single negative reaction.
That got us thinking, maybe he’s on to something? Maybe we’re not the only ones noticing many of the recent and proposed developments all look similar? So similar, in fact, we start to wonder if the architects are all in cahoots?
One of the visual hallmarks of downtown Greenville up to the early 2000s was its eclectic nature reflective of the eras during which the various buildings were designed. In fact, Mayor Knox White in meetings and to the press would compare downtown to furnishing a house — it happens over time, and though the furniture won’t always match in the process, it eventually comes together to look right.
And while decades from now the look of downtown may present as such after the new Greenville Downtown Master Plan is fully realized through incorporating all of the surrounding neighborhoods and corridors, right now the overall aesthetic seems to have shifted towards more uniformity. And it’s drawing some attention.
This, of course, is a result of the post-recession development boom in the central business district and the West End, particularly, where an enormous amount of construction is taking place all during the same architectural era.
Who’s ultimately responsible? In part, the Design Review Board Urban panel, who not only determine if new projects meet the guidelines but also have the capability to steer architects towards a design style or suggest unique design elements. To be clear, that latter part is tangential to the panel’s actual charge, so ultimately, it falls to developers and architects to look at the current trending architecture and choose to be different, all while following those aforementioned guidelines. It’s not as simple as it sounds. (Peruse the guidelines at https://www.greenvillesc.gov/180/Design-Guidelines if you’re interested.)
This type of uniformity could have happened in different eras with a wildly different result. For some perspective, let’s review a few of the prominent downtown structures with their distinguishable traits. One thing to note, many of these happened a decade apart. Now, we’re experiencing multiple such developments in the same calendar year. (BTW, this is not intended to be historically exhaustive — this is a free newsletter sent on a Friday for Pete’s sake).
- The Daniel Building (Landmark) — The OG of the office towers in downtown, it was built in the mid-1960s (a young Knox White used to race his brother, Andy, up the unfinished stairwells) and remains the tallest building in Greenville. It used to be the tallest in the state, but things happen.
- 101 North Main — Overlooking One City Plaza, this classic tower stands out with light facade. Street level floor-to-ceiling storefronts have modernized it significantly for the pedestrian while the iconic tower remains squarely in the era that celebrated right angles.
- City Hall — It looks like a giant filing cabinet, and despite many who don’t like its looks — this remains a very functional building.
- The Hyatt — Welcome to 1982 in full force. Think about what downtown would look like now had Main Street been redeveloped during that era. But now, it provides a necessary contrast to the current style. The plaza upgrades make it part of the cityscape.
- The Peace Center — While formerly a solid red brick presence, the more recent addition of the grand glass entrance helps disguise its late-80’s-early-90’s architecture as about a decade and a half more current than it is. Bravo.
- RiverPlace — This early-to-mid 2000s style is a merging of the brick/stucco/glass trends on either side of this time period. It used to look far more edgy than it does now, but it’s almost like the missing link between the two.
- The ONE Building — Non-right angles of the two towers, along with prominent glass and stucco make this building stand out in the right ways.
- Falls Park Place — Stylized stucco and no red brick distinguishes this building from its surroundings, providing that eclectic feel.
- The era of red brick/stucco multifamily (could list a dozen buildings here).
And look at that. All of those different styles of buildings currently co-exist nicely in our celebrated downtown. Let’s hope future developments and those underway will provide the necessary balance to the red brick onslaught.