Design Architect: David Baker Architects

Executive Architect: McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture

Williams Terrace  is the first dedicated housing for low-income seniors in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. A long time coming, the building finally replaces affordable family housing destroyed in a 1989 hurricane.

A collaboration between two firms—combining vernacular knowledge and affordable housing expertise—the gracious building stands out for its modern new homes while respecting and drawing deeply on the historic fabric of the city.

The team worked closely with the local Housing Authority to develop a dynamic design that both meets the challenges of the site—located in a high-velocity flood zone—and respects gracious downtown Charleston.

The design takes inspiration from Charleston’s Single Houses, characterized by their piazzas, which function in a similar way to porches. We interpreted this concept with wide, open-air corridors that function as the external circulation for the building. These deep porches surround a central entry courtyard and are lined with seating to encourage interaction, providing gathering and social spaces for the senior residents.

Taking a cue from the louvered shutters found on historic piazzas, we included sliding sun screens to allow residents to adjust the amount of shade desired. These dynamic screens make for a customizable and ever-changing façade. The lime-washed brick exterior offers another connection with Charleston’s historic past.

The building’s ground-level “screen porch” fronts the new public park and connects to it directly via a shaded public sidewalk. The flexible space has no built-in furnishings, but can be set up for a variety of events. This allows for an active ground floor despite the City requirement that no permanent uses can be located at ground level.

To avoid flood damage, the community room is located on the roof, which frames wonderful views across the new park toward Charleston Harbor. The roof includes a sunny terrace overlooking the neighboring park, restrooms, and laundry facilities.

The 41 one-bedroom apartments are a version of the southern “shotgun” typology, with bedrooms toward the rear for privacy and living areas connected to the shared “social porches,” and allowing for through-ventilation in every unit. The deep piazzas shade the homes and allow the living spaces to extend outward.  The homes have high ceilings with cooling fans and are oriented north-west to avoid heat loads from eastern and western exposure.

Williams Terrace marks an important architectural achievement for Charleston because it helps tackle one of the city’s biggest challenges: keeping longtime residents downtown. Much of the city’s public and affordable housing stock is in the suburbs. This building provides homes for independent living and aging in place for local seniors in the heart of Charleston, adjacent to a park and the harbor, and convenient to shops and services.





AIA California
AIA California
AIA California is dedicated to serving its members, and uniting all architecture professionals in the design of a more just, equitable and resilient future through advocacy, education and political action. It celebrates more than 75 years of service and, today, is composed of more than 11,000 members across the state.

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