Charleston Architect Completes Clean, Green, Modern Residence

"Green" architecture comes to the Johns Island, SC.
November 17, 2008 (CHARLESTON, SC) — South Carolina architect Whitney Powers, AIA, of Studio A, Inc., is well known for bringing a host of sustainable design principles and technologies to bear on her residential projects. The 5000-square-foot home she recently completed on Johns Island in Charleston is perhaps her finest example to date. Sleek and sophisticated, it is also a clear example of why clean-lined, contemporary architecture is the perfect palette for environmentally responsible design.

The house sits back from the edge of Penney Creek on a site large enough for Powers to break the owners’ spatial requirements into three distinct, and separately heated and cooled, sections: the main house in the center flanked by a guest wing (left) and home office wing (right). The three sections form a U-shaped courtyard of multi-level decking, centerpieced by an infinity swimming pool.

The flat roof lines allowed Powers to install a vegetated roof on the guest wing, which will filter rainwater, provide excellent insulation and, when the plant materials mature, will create a colorful complement to the home’s natural setting. Deep overhangs at the roof shield the interior from the harsh summer sun.

The “green” roof, the first of its kind on a residence in the Charleston Area, follows a similar roof on the new addition to the Circular Congregationalist Church in downtown Charleston that Powers helped bring to pass.

The roof above the main house tilts upward to create space for clerestory windows, natural ventilation, and natural light.

The house’s modern composition also welcomed the use of materials with highly recycled content, including salvaged cypress and cement panels for the shell. Inside, the owners’ collection of early American furnishings sets up an interesting study in contrasts with the sleek, contemporary exterior.

The façade facing the approaching driveway features copper cladding that will mellow to a green patina in time, further reducing the large home’s visual impact on the site. This façade also features nine windows, only two of which are the same size. According to Powers, the windows serve as “hints,” or abstract representations, of what’s behind them.

Working with clients who wanted to make the house as “green” as possible, Powers was able to specify a geothermal heating and cooling system and rain water collection cisterns to provide irrigation for the landscaping. Inside, she used board paneling recycled from an old barn, a limestone sink carved from part of an old house destroyed by a tornado, and paints with no volatile compounds that contribute to indoor air pollution.

The house’s seclusion in the landscape also inspired Powers to further this sense by creating a “labyrinthine,” covered stone entry court tucked underneath the main house to the left of the garage. From there, a staircase rises to the main deck and entrance.

The Charleston Post & Courier’s architecture critic Robert Behre has called the Johns Island residence “a showplace for many of the latest ideas on building in a more environmentally friendly way.”

Powers says she likes to think of it as “forms and spaces, sculpted to the landscape and the sunlight.”

A juxtaposition of light and dark, refined and raw, severe and delicate, transparent and opaque, it is clearly light years apart from the typical residence built along the Low Country’s creeks and waterways.

For more information on Whitney Powers and Studio A, Inc., visit


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