We are Jenny Bevan and Christopher Liberatos. We live and work in downtown Charleston, a city we love, a city that teaches and inspires us daily, a city that informs our design philosophy.
WHAT IS A DESIGN PHILOSOPHY?
Whether they can articulate it or not, every designer has a philosophy that guides their decisions about design.* Whereas in the past there might have been general agreement as to what constituted sound theory, today there is a great philosophical divide among designers. As Architecture Magazine puts it, there are “two parallel worlds in architecture: one devoted to classical architecture, the other to mainstream modernism.”
Before modernism, there was no such things as traditional architecture - there was just architecture. Once the tradition-rejecting philosophies of modernism came about, artists and designers and critics were forced to take sides. What was once the philosophy of a minority avant garde became institutionalized policy, such that today anti-traditional education has become so mainstream that out of 125 architecture schools in the country, only one is devoted to traditional architectural education. Traditional architectural education is seeing a growing demand from students, however, and is beginning to be taught at a few other schools alongside modernism.
The main difference between the traditional versus the modernist philosophies can be distilled down to this: In modernism, the designer is allowed to do anything she wants so long as it isn’t traditional. (It was called “anti-traditionalism” before it was called “modernism.”) If anything traditional does survive into a modernist design, it tends to be stripped of any detail or interest or is otherwise deformed or abstracted. In traditional design practice, however, the designer is free to engage with tradition as much as she sees fit, employing what works from the past, discarding what doesn’t, building on a legacy.
OUR DESIGN PHILOSOPHY
We believe there is a place for traditional architecture in our time, too. We believe there is much wisdom to be found in it that can not only contribute to a new sustainable architecture - pitched roofs, projecting eaves, drips, moldings and ornament that redirect water, sills, etc. - but also to the important psychological component: lovability. We don’t want our work (or your project) to be an experiment in material science or abstract aesthetics. We are under no pressure to be avant-garde, or to use your project to try to win awards.
We believe the principles of traditional architecture are timeless and cross-cultural, that they are universal yet capable of producing an endless variety of uniquely beautiful particulars. We believe that architectural beauty found in traditional architecture reflects the rhythms and proportions found in the human body and throughout all of Nature.
We believe architecture is a slow art, one best appreciated with contemplative calm. We believe there is a place for thrills but that we shouldn’t rely on architecture to provide them. Architecture should not be pressed into serving our shrinking attention spans.
We believe in the importance of good manners and that etiquette extends into the design world. We believe most buildings should fit in when necessary, that some should stand out when appropriate, and that both kinds should be well-proportioned and beautifully detailed.
We believe that bad design is harmful to the human spirit. Dissonant proportions enter the body through the eyes and cause subconscious irritation and dis-ease just as dissonant sound can. Every effort should be made to ensure that the proportions of a design are in harmony; good proportions cost no more than bad ones.
We believe that there are no new ideas, that what seems new is actually a novel configuration or composition of preexisting ideas. Art, therefore, is fundamentally imitative, and the art of design lies in knowing what, where, and how to imitate. This (knowing what, where, and how to imitate) forms the basis of taste, which can be refined through hard work, through knowledge of the history of one’s art and being familiar with the best examples the art has to offer, and through scholarship and travel.
Even though the now century-old promotional campaign that anti-traditional architecture has enjoyed prevents these architects from being particularly well known, we believe the best buildings built during the 20th century were designed by less-publicized modern traditionalists like Raymond Erith, Philip T. Shutze, Edwin Lutyens, Armando Brasini, Reginald Blomfield, people who were unafraid to engage with tradition, people who created the traditional architecture of their time, people like Albert Simons, who wrote:
“We should ask our architects that our buildings be not only of our time but of our place. If we do this we can hope for another age of distinguished architecture.”
*Called “design decisions,” these refer to any decision that affects how a project looks. The pitch of a roof, the location of a door, how wide a closet is, how high an electrical outlet is off the floor, whether a scotia molding is 5/8” or 3/4” tall - every project represents the sum total of thousands and thousands of design decisions, and the integrity of these decisions determines the quality of a project. Whether it’s a complex building or a single piece of furniture, each and every component has to have somebody deciding what it should be, what shape it should be, what size it should be, and where it should go. A good designer keeps all these decisions in mind, prioritizes them, organizes them, and makes sure that they not only reflect your wishes but are well-proportioned and beautiful.
We’ve taught traditional architecture as TAs at Notre Dame, at the University of Greenwich (U.K.), and we’ve given lectures including:
“An Architecture of Our Time and the Genius of Albert Simons” (Preservation Society of Charleston)
“Understanding Traditional Architecture” (Charleston Library Society)
“Proportion in Ancient and Contemporary Architecture” (Charleston Library Society)
“What Can We Learn About Ourselves from Our Architecture?” (College of Charleston)
“What is Classicism and Why it Matters to Charleston” (Charleston Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art)
“Practical Lessons in Classicism from Charleston's Earliest Sources: Pre-Revolutionary Architecture Books at the Charlestown Library Society.”
PUBLICATIONS - EXHIBITIONS - RECOGNITION
Preservation Society of Charleston, Carolopolis Pro Merito Award.
(Renovation and addition to the 1740s George Eveleigh House, Charleston, SC)
Sir John Soane Museum Foundation Fellowship, Architecture.
(The Work of Sir John Soane as a Model for the Introduction of Light and Air in Contemporary Architecture)
Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Graduate Initiative Grant.
(Ancient Baths of Turkey: A Model of Architectural Decorum for Contemporary Aquarium Buildings)
Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Graduate Travel and Research Grant.
(Andrea Palladio, Raymond Erith and Albert Simons: Distributio in Contemporary Classical Architecture)
“Quantity meet Quality”, Charleston Home Magazine.
(Renovation of an 1840s carriage house in Charleston, SC)
The Georgian Group Members’ Exhibition, London.
(Watercolor renderings of a new country house in England and a new triumphal arch in Atlanta)
Minard Lafever and His Circle: The Diffusion of Grecian Architecture in the United States, 1830-1860, Merchant's House Museum, NY.
(Exhibition of measured drawings of Lafayette Terrace, NY)
20th-Century Architecture in Charleston: A Visual Timeline & Comparative Analysis, Charleston.
(Exhibition of photographs and analysis)
When we decided to study traditional architecture, we found the only place to do so was at the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. We both have Masters of Architecture degrees from there, and Jenny also has an architecture degree from the University of Virginia, which has a mainstream modernist program. Notre Dame's program is simply amazing.
We are grateful to have worked for some of the most talented and distinguished traditional architects practicing today, both in the United States and in Europe. They gave us the opportunity to work on many extraordinary and important projects, and they continue to be our mentors to this day. These are the offices, and this is some of the work we did there: