Architecture winner: The American College of Building Arts

Advancing traditional Southern craftmanship with a modern spirit.
Article: Erin Shaw Street

The American College of Building Arts
Founded 2004, Charleston, South Carolina

Iron poured. Plaster smoothed. Stone carved. In the belly of the Old Charleston Jail, a group of twentysomethings is learning, not with pen and notebook but with brick and mortar. The American College of Building Arts is the only four-year liberal arts program in the country where students can earn a college degree by learning traditional craftsmanship and modern building trades.

The school was created to fill a void when, after Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston in 1989, there weren’t enough trained craftspeople to repair the badly damaged historic homes. Students choose from one of six majors—architectural stone, carpentry, forged architectural ironwork, plaster working, preservation masonry, and timber framing—but have to take classes from all disciplines. They come from all over the country to learn how to restore, preserve, and build.

“In a time when we are returning to the values of craftsmanship, this college is leading the way,” says Heroes juror Jim Strickland. “Their graduates are continuing crafts that we once feared would be lost.”

Graduates have gone on to open businesses throughout the South, and to restore buildings as far away as Versailles. “Not only are we preserving historic structures that have withstood time and are in need of repair,” says Kerri Forrest, director of institutional advancement at the school. “We’re also teaching students cutting-edge contemporary construction.” Where the two meet, that’s the future.

Runner-Up: Dr. Fred Starr, Age 71
New Orleans, Louisiana; Historian and preservationist

When Fred bought the 1826 Lombard Plantation house, it was barely inhabitable. Over two decades, the historian led excavations to reveal details of the original construction, down to the herringbone brick pavement and hand-forged gutter mounts. His restoration, which included replanting a garden filled with persimmons and pomegranates, is now the cornerstone of a neighborhood renaissance. Once-abandoned buildings have been restored to classic homes. And construction is underway on a $30 million riverfront park, signaling a new era for the neighborhood.

Honorable Mentions:

Beth Wiedower, Age 35
West Memphis, Arkansas; Arkansas Delta Rural Heritage Development Initiative

Beth rehabilitates rural towns through restoration of significant structures, such as the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home.

Deke Copenhaver, Age 44
Augusta, Georgia; Laney-Walker/Bethlehem Restoration Initiative

Mayor Deke pushed to revitalize neglected neighborhoods in Augusta’s center with new construction, mixed-income housing, and urban parks.

Garlan Gudger, Jr., Age: 36
Cullman, Alabama; Southern Accents Architectural Antiques

Garlan reclaims pieces from historic structures for modern use, including designer Billy Reid’s runways. He used his expertise to help rebuild Cullman after April tornadoes.