Hollywood, South Carolina


In 1962, John Henry Dick underwent what some call a hunter's conversion. That year, Dick'a product of New York high society, with a proclivity for ornithology, big game, and porkpie hats'found himself on a safari face-to-face with a Bengal tiger. As he trained his weapon on the beast, he did something unusual: he hesitated. 'A sense of confused shame engulfed me,' he later wrote. He pulled the trigger nonetheless, but, from that point onward, Dick quit hunting and devoted the remainder of his days to wildlife illustration and environmentalism. The tiger became a rug for his South Carolina estate known as Dixie Plantation and, as he wrote, a memento of 'how long it sometimes takes to grow up.'

The anecdote is the unlikely backstory for a new addition to the College of Charleston's campus. After Dick's death in 1995, he bequeathed the 881-acre former rice plantation 19 miles outside of Charleston, South Carolina, to the institution as a 'conservationist's classroom.' The college hired Baltimore-based Ayers Saint Gross Architects and Planners to convert the property, a wooded marshland along the Stono River, into a nature preserve and research facility. The firm designed a master plan and a series of outbuildings for the site, the first phase of which was completed last July.

'The idea is for the whole master plan to be didactic,' says firm principal Adam Gross. 'The property itself teaches about the importance of conservation and sustainability.'

The initial challenge of Dick's gift was in resolving how to utilize it. When the college approached Ayers Saint Gross to discuss options for programming, the site had sat fallow for decades, choked by invasive plants and plagued by illegal hunting'and worse: in 2002, a corpse was discovered in the woods alongside its gravel road.

After discussions with the college and environmental experts, Ayers Saint Gross conceived a three-phase plan to rehabilitate the overgrown property by adding a 4.3-mile nature trail, educational facilities, and water service. When it came to planning classrooms and research spaces, the designers exercised restraint, reserving only 2 percent of the property for building. 'It was ultimately modeled on a rustic camp,' says Gross.

On a recent drizzly morning, Gross and several faculty members strolled along a segment of the wooded walkway. Near the trailhead they came to Dixie's primary structure'a large meeting hall facing the river. The two-story gabled hall has a timber frame and truss roof, echoing a barn that once stood on the site. 'Context, proportion, and scale all mattered,' says Gross, 'so we took the dimensions and proportions of the original barn and developed this new building.' The western elevation is covered by a generous overhang, while the eastern side has a two-level screened porch complete with rocking chairs and tranquil views of the wetlands and river. Inside, a vestibule leads into a full-height open space with a mezzanine level. Its walls are paneled in honey-colored cypress, the floor covered in reclaimed pine, and the windows and doors framed in mahogany.

A short distance from the meeting barn is Dick's former painting studio'a low brick building that the firm also renovated with vernacular materials'which functions as a gallery for Dick's wildlife illustrations, among its other purposes.

The firm planned the meandering trails to wind through a maximum number of ecosystems, with as little impact on the site as possible. (The designers worked closely with conservation and planning firm Biohabitats.) A boardwalk, made from southern pine planks supported by pine timbers on a compacted stone-aggregate base, takes visitors through connected saltwater, brackish, and freshwater ponds. Egrets and blue herons frequently fly up from the marsh amid reeds and cypress trees. Signage and way-finding elements, also designed by Ayers Saint Gross, differentiate the five different zones: meadow, wetland, river, woodland, and an all'e of moss-laden oaks that were part of the original plantation design. Other markers provide historical information, including the history of slaves that farmed the plantation in the antebellum era, and point out specific ecological features, such as habitats for wading birds. 'The thing that is so cool is how the path unfolds,' Gross says. 'It's like a beautiful street along which there are a series of piazzas.'

The trails, barn, and studio are just the start of the transformation: forest remediation tactics, including prescribed burning; the removal of invasive plants; and reforestation (including the planting of 73,000 Longleaf pine seedlings) are under way. This January, two new research stations included in Ayers Saint Gross's master plan, but designed by Johnston Design Group, will be completed to host classes in subjects ranging from archaeology to zoology. Eventually, the campus will also include housing.

Along the trail, two students stooped in a garden, weeding and mulching at the edge of the new path. Carmen Ketron, who is working toward a double master's in environmental studies and public administration at the college, gestured to a pair of plastic kiddie pools filled with a grasslike plant'an experiment in growing Carolina Gold and Charleston Gold rice, varieties once cultivated at the plantation. 'It's really great to have this resource,' she said. 'The students want to get their hands dirty.'


Owner: College of Charleston

Ayers Saint Gross
1040 Hull Street, Suite 100
Baltimore, MD 21230
Phone: 410-347-8500
Fax: 410-347-8519

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Adam Gross, FAIA – Design Principal
Robert Claiborne, AIA, LEED AP BD+C – Project Manager/Architect
Jessica Leonard, LEED AP BD+C – Master Planner
Jonathan Ceci, PLA, LEED AP – Landscape Architect
Jamie Barnett, SEGD – Environmental Signage and Graphic Design
Alice Brooks, AIA, LEED AP BD+C - Architect
Katarina Carlin, AIA, LEED AP BD+C – Interior Designer
Brett Gullborg, LEED Green Assoc. – Architect
Anne Hicks Harney, AIA, LEED AP BD+C – Specifications Writer
Glenn Neighbors, AIA, LEED AP – Senior Master Planner
Kendal Foster, AIA, LEED AP BD+C - Architect
Tradonna Massenburg – Construction Administration Manager

Interior designer: Ayers Saint Gross

Mechanical / Electrical:
DWG Engineering
Phillip M. Dalpiaz, PE
843-849-1141 / pdalpiaz@dwginc.com

GEL Civil Engineering & Environmental, LLC
Jim Posda, RLA
843-769-7378 / james.posda@gel.com

ADC Engineering
Mark Dillion, PE
843-566-0161 / markd@adcengineering.com

Landscape: Ayers Saint Gross

Lighting: DWG Engineering, Ayers Saint Gross

Biohabitats, Inc.
Keith Bowers, FASLA
410-554-0156 / kbowers@biohabitats.com

Cost Estimating:
Aiken Cost Consultants, Inc.
Brad Aiken
864-232-9342 / Brad@AikenCost.com

General contractor:
Bob Gregorini
206-682-3030 / BobG@schuchart.com

Paul Burk Photography
Paul Burk
410-366-3883 / paul@paulburkphotography.com
Credit: Paul Burk Photography

Aerials -
Vanessa Kauffman
843-814-6650 / charlestonaerials@gmail.com
Credit: Vanessa Kauffman

Construction cost:

$4.1 million


881 acres; 3,900 square feet (meeting barn); 1,125 square feet (studio)

Completion date:

July 2013



Structural system
Concrete Footings and Concrete Masonry Unit Foundation Walls
Load-bearing Cold-formed Metal Wall Framing – Clark Dietrich Building Systems

Heavy Timber Roof Trusses and Purlins: Atlantic Specialty Truss
Wood Tongue-and-Groove Roof Decking
Wood Floor and Roof Framing (elevated floors, low roofs)

Exterior cladding
Wood: Western Red Cedar Beveled Siding; Western Red Cedar Trim.

Porch Flooring: Ipe.

Bronze Insect Screen: Screen Technology Group, Inc.

Moisture barrier: Henry Company.

Exterior Paving
Exterior Paving: Bluestone

Flexible Porous Pavement: Gravelpave 2, Invisible Structures, Inc.

Metal: Copper Standing-seam Roofing – Hussey Copper

Wood frame: Mahogany Wood Ultimate Casement and Ultimate Double-Hung (with Low-E/Argon “Stormplus IZ3” Insulated Glazing) - Marvin Windows and Doors

Exterior doors: Mahogany Wood Doors (with Low-E/Argon “Stormplus IZ3” Insulated Glazing) - Marvin Windows and Doors

Interior doors: Mahogany Stile and Rail Doors

Locksets: Corbin Russwin Architectural Hardware

Closers: Corbin Russwin Architectural Hardware

Exit devices: Corbin Russwin Architectural Hardware

Pulls: Rockwood Manufacturing Co.

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: USG Interiors

Suspension grid: USG Interiors

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Peralta Woodworks, Inc.

Paints and stains: The Sherwin-Williams Company; Messmer’s Natural Wood Finishes

Wall Paneling, Meeting Barn: Southern Cypress; Trim, Studio: Mahogany.

Wood Flooring: Rift Grade Historic Heart Pine Engineered Flooring (reclaimed), Mountain Lumber Company

Granite: North Carolina Granite Corporation

Floor and wall tile: Daltile Corporation (restrooms, kitchen)

Stone flooring:  Slate flooring, Studio – Vermont Structural Slate Company, Inc.

Stainless Steel Toilet Compartments: Ampco Products, Inc.
Toilet Accessories: American Specialties, Inc.
Fire Extinguishers and Cabinets: JL Industries.

Roller Shades: Hunter Douglas Contract.

Downlights: Louis Poulsen; Gotham.
Pendant downlights (Meeting Barn): Belaro 22, Beta-Calco Inc.
LED Accent Downlights (Studio): Ledra by WILA Lighting.
LED track (Studio): Amerilux.
Wall fixtures (bath): BEGA-US.
Perimeter wall wash (bath): Focal Point.
Exit signs: Precise LED, Lithonia Lighting.

Wall fixtures: Vision 3 Lighting; BEGA-US;
Site bollards: MAC II LED Bollard, Structura Inc.

Dimming System or other lighting controls: Lutron.

Water Fountains: Halsey Taylor.
Stainless steel lavatories: Just Manufacturing Company.
Water-saving faucets: Zurn Industries.
Water-saving toilets: Kohler.
Water-saving urinals and flush valves: Sloan Valve Company.

Air-to-air energy recovery equipment: Greenheck.
Energy-saving heat pump: Lennox Industries Inc.
Ceiling fans (Meeting Barn interior): Isis Commercial Series, Big Ass Fans.
Ceiling fans (Meeting Barn porches): Casablanca.