Restoration: New Life for a Contaminated Environment

Clemson University Zucker Family Graduate Education Center

Port cities are fascinating places, and Charleston is no exception. The endless cycle of regeneration and renewal is as consistent as the tides, evident in the layering of the built environment as well as in the city’s culture, identity, and history.


The old Charleston Naval Base, which operated as a hub of shipbuilding activity for the better part of a century, is a prime example. Once a marshland on the west bank of the Cooper River just upstream from the Atlantic Ocean, the property became a naval base in 1901, and was used to build and repair everything from nuclear submarines to paddleboats. When the base was decommissioned in 1995, the decades of shipbuilding left behind infrastructure and a number of historic buildings; it also left behind remnants of heavy industrial activities such as chromium plating, dry cleaning, battery storage, and munitions fabrication. The historic site was a brownfield: contaminated, abandoned, and unfit for many uses.


Revitalizing the land for a new chapter in Charleston’s history required a unique client, one whose mission would serve as a catalyst for new life, growth, and activity along the Cooper River.

Clemson University turned out to be that unique client. By 2004, Clemson was developing the Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI), a graduate-level program with an academic and research focus on “integrative approaches to restoration.” CURI’s mission, “to  advance knowledge in integrative approaches to the restoration and sustainability of historic, ecological, and urban infrastructure resources and drive economic growth,” seemed tailor-made for the site. Recognizing the transformative potential of the program, the North Charleston City Council granted CURI 80 acres on the Charleston Naval Base site to help achieve its vision.

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