It’s All About the View

As an architect, I like looking at glossy images of beautiful buildings as much as the next designer. However, when we look back on our projects, sometimes the story that sticks with us is the hard work and design sweat that goes into the process. The joy of problem solving, the interesting challenges, and the valuable lessons learned along the way linger long after the punch list is finished and the tenants move in.

A few years ago, I had the exciting opportunity to work on The Tides, a high-end Charleston condominium project. At 155,000 SF, this building was the fourth project in this development with 54 luxury condos averaging 1,850 SF for a two-bedroom unit, and the 80’ building is a high rise by Charlestonians’ standards. The project is situated just across the Ravenel Bridge in Mount Pleasant with picturesque views of the Cooper River. Along with stunning views of the marsh and river came spacious rooms, a deluxe kitchen, natural light, tall ceilings, and heart pine floors throughout: this project had it all.

This project came with very lofty expectations. The client team was highly experienced and presented two clear criteria for project success:

Goal #1 – Every residence must have a water view.

Goal #2 – The entrance into the residence must be a home run. (The team defined this as an immediate experience of the water view without the obstruction of an entry corridor or vestibule.)

Some buildings that get designed from the outside in; others get designed from the inside out.  Since the unit design was a major selling point for The Tides, this project began from the inside. Developing floor plans to achieve those two goals required multiple iterations, a little innovation, and a lot of communication.

Achieving the first goal, a water view for every residence, was fairly easy; we just needed to design a single-loaded corridor building. The upside to this model is that each residence is a “thru-unit” with light, air, and circulation at the one side and a stunning view at the other. The tradeoff is inefficiency. A single-loaded corridor requires the same amount of public corridor, stairs, and elevator as a double-loaded building but with less saleable square footage in proportion to the circulation space.





The second goal proved to me more of a challenge. In a single-loaded plan, the entry would need to be at the back of the unit on the land side, farthest away from the “wow factor” view, to maximize the water view at the front. Achieving a viable location for the elevator cores while prioritizing the water view and entry experience required multiple iterations. When we got closer to a workable solution, the client added a goal which ultimately drove the design towards our most innovative solution: eliminate the exterior corridor and any extraneous interior corridors. This move would minimize circulation space and provide a better entry experience from parking lot all the way to the unit, but would create some puzzles to solve in terms of egress.

We ultimately solved the egress challenge and met all three of the client’s goals with an unusual solution: adding both stair and elevator access to each individual unit, and working closely with the code authorities at every step of the process to interpret and implement all relevant codes. When we proposed our plan to the municipal commercial plan reviewer and the fire marshal, we discussed precedents for using elevators for emergency egress and explained that in our design:

  • Each unit had direct access to two forms of egress, and I mean super-direct: residents can literally walk directly into an elevator or a stair from the unit.
  • The building is built like a tank. A post-tensioned concrete structure with exterior walls constructed of cmu blocks.
  • All of the demising walls, stairs walls and elevator walls would be built of 2 hour rated construction, which would help isolate any fire event.
  • The building would be fully sprinklered.
  • The result is a building which we felt fully met the intent of the building code.

The code authorities agreed! They thought that our layout was very reasonable and gave us permission to proceed with the design.  In our final iteration, each semi-private elevator serves two units per floor with swing doors mounted in the elevator jamb entering directly into the unit, where the water view is on full display from the first step into the unit. Each unit also touches one stair on the opposite side of the unit from the elevator to provide a second means of egress.

Having a client with clear goals who continuously pushed the envelope on the design encouraged our team to ask the question “What if?” In the process, were able to create an unique solution that elevates the experience for residents and raises the bar for future designs in the Charleston area.


About Stephen

Associate Principal Stephen Ramos joined the firm in 2008 and has been involved with the design of several of the firm’s most recent commercial projects with a focus on hotel and multi-family development. A graduate of the University of Maryland with both a Bachelor of Architecture and Master of Architecture with a focus on Urban Design, Stephen gained experience working with Michael Graves and Associates, where he played an integral part in several large-scale international residential and hospitality projects. Stephen has developed significant expertise in the hospitality sector; he was integral to the design of Charleston’s Spectator Hotel, which was named #1 Hotel in the US and #2 Hotel in the World by Travel + Leisure.

Stephen’s devotion to the profession is apparent in his many industry-related contributions, including a teaching position in architecture at the College of Charleston; a visiting design critic position at Clemson and SCAD; his design blog; and leadership positions with the American Institute of Architects and Architecture for Humanity.