The junior Architecture of Cities class studied portions of Charleston’s morphology. There were several pedagogical objectives. First, it was important for students to work with M.R.G. Conzen’s premise that the character of place depends on change slowest in street and block patterns, then in lot shapes and building types, and affording change most easily in land use (cf. Conzen on Alnwick, 1960). Second, the morphology project was an opportunity for students to engage in research using primary sources using a method that is being employed by contemporary townplanners.
Students, in an introductory way, employed Karl S. Kropf’s morphological taxonomy (“The Definition of Built Form in Urban Morphology,” Ph.D. 1993). They looked at the history of the subdivision of lots. Using Sanborn maps and contemporary internet mapping sources, they were able to chart some change of land use over time within unchanged building types. They were able to draw inferences regarding the change in orientation of lots over time to busier commercial streets and the change in building types over time as land became more valuable on those commercial streets. Some looked at charting small changes in the transect and others inferred class distinctions from house positions as they are disposed in blocks.
Charleston’s fabric is perhaps the most intact and extensive Georgian city in the United States and rich in the unique Charleston single house type. The Sanborns document porches and this afforded the opportunity for students to map the positioning of houses and porches. Students could reflect on these low technology approaches to addressing the demanding humid climate condition.