By Lindsay Wolfe
Edited by Justin Fenner
Posted April 22, 2010
Stand at the corner of Blossom and Main streets in downtown Columbia and you're surrounded by nothing but beige brick and beige stucco buildings. Move a block to the west and it's practically the same scene.
USC's Honors Residence Hall, Horizon I, the Horizon Parking Garage, Discovery I, the Discovery garage, the Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center and the Adesso condominiums were all built in the last two or three years on or near the USC campus. And they're all beige or taupe.
While the university's architecture review committee says it's trying to emulate the colors of the Horseshoe, some, especially at the city level, say they find the color palette a little manila.
"It's a dumb idea," said Fred Delk, director of Columbia Development Corporation. "Everything that is that color is going to be dated in a 10-year period. It just doesn't make sense to slap up all your buildings in the same color."
Delk's organization works with development in Five Points, the Vista and down Devine Street toward Garner's Ferry — areas with a lot of architectural and color diversity.
Instead of taking cues from those areas, the university draws on the beige color palette on the Horseshoe.
"We're not doing it to say, 'We want to make Horseshoes everywhere,'" said Thomas Quasney, USC's director of facilities. "It's just kind of part of our culture."
Mark Buyck Jr., chairman of the university's architectural review committee, said that committee formed after the school of music got a new building in 1994. The building, at the corner of Assembly and College streets, didn't match the look of the campus, Buyck said.
The committee formed to encourage a more unified campus look, including the beige brick, Buyck said, and so that when you see one of USC's buildings, you "have a sense that this building is a part of campus," said Dale Marshall, a member of the city's design/development review committee.
The same thinking went behind design of the 110-unit Adesso condominiums. At Blossom and Main, Adesso was developed by Holder Properties and the University Development Foundation, said Tim Bright, Holder's senior vice president.
Heather Mitchell, president of the Boudreaux Group architecture firm said the color scheme doesn't hamper a designer's creativity.
"You can still do some buildings that are less traditional," said Mitchell, whose firm designed Green Quad and the Strom Thurmond Fitness and Wellness Center, and most recently the Horizon parking deck. "There's different shades of brick."
In a lot of cases, designers say, the building's color is less important than how the size and facade fit in with surrounding buildings.
Igor Andersen, Innovista's project director at the Boston-based architecture firm Sasaki Associates, said his firm tries not to focus on color because size, facade and landscape are "stronger definers of the space than the style itself."
"Design review may have preferences for color, but there is room for many different styles." Andersen said.
But Delk said he's not convinced. "How does the character of our community ever really become its own if you're always trying to replicate something that's already there?"
Lucinda Statler, an urban design planner with the city who sits with Marshall on the design/development review committee, said there's too much regulation from the university, which means missed opportunities for creative architecture.
By the time the city sees plans for a building, Statler said, the university's board has already been over the designs at least twice. But the university recently agreed to let city planners sit through the architectural review board.
That means instead of only determining whether a building fits design guidelines, city planning will actually have a hand in the design process.
In terms of beige, "hopefully we're moving out of that direction," Statler said.