Harboring Preservation: A Proposal of Responsive Re-use for Castle Pinckney & Charleston Harbor


Antone Sgro
Ball State University


Jonathan Spodek
Ball State University


Through a minimalistic approach, this project offers simple and clean design solutions to Shute’s Folly Island and Castle Pinckney. The design and concept for the boat exhibition and transportation system is creative and advantageous for the city of Charleston and its visitors. The introduction of the groin walls is a successful preservation strategy, as they allow the island to remain and grow, crucial to protecting the site.


Harboring Preservation is a responsive approach to a complex design challenge – how can an abandoned 19th-century island fort be re-used to benefit the surrounding Charleston community and contribute to the cities unique historic integrity? Design and research for this competition entry occurred at three specific scales: urban (harbor), site (island) and building scale (human).

The master plan encompasses a 21st century ecotourism strategy with layers of interpretive history. Castle Pinckney is a small part of a vast network of military sites developed to defend Charleston’s Harbor in the 18th and 19th centuries. This solution integrates a cultural trail connecting more than 30 Civil War era military sites along the harbor waterfront. Signage, maps, demarcated pathways and interactive installations provide safe routes for pedestrians to explore the harbor communities by foot or bicycle. Incrementally placed bicycle and kayak rental stations provide alternative environmentally friendly travel options in addition to the existing taxi and ferryboats for visitors and locals to enjoy.

A unique component of this design proposal is a Gullah-inspired floating welcome pavilion, strategically docked at the city pier in Waterfront Park near the French Quarter and historic downtown. The pavilions flexible, off-the-grid design provides opportunities to display information about Charleston’s unique military defense network and host a variety of events. In addition to the floating pavilions public space function, the design and equipment onboard expand its utility from a stationary platform to an independently powered mobile vessel. Figuratively and literally, the mobile pavilion bridges the physical gap that limits knowledge and interaction with Castle Pinckney and Shute’s Folly Island.

Tidal marsh and soft soils of Shute’s Folly Island have been depleted by 71 percent over the last 300 years of documented history due to tidal shifts, extreme storms, and increased large vessel traffic.  The process of erosion has had a destructive effect on the island and poses a significant threat to the stabilization of Castle Pinckney. Therefore, the island plan proposes a series of groin walls to reduce the effects of erosion while also providing safe access for visitors arriving via boat. Composed of two parallel steel sheet pile walls embedded into the soft, saturated soils, the walls reinforce the shifting landscape. In addition to providing access and reducing further erosion, the cavity created between the walls could provide a dumping location for dredged material, a common by product of harbor maintenance. The sea wall will be capped with a walking platform and seating for visitors to enjoy Castle Pinckney.

The final component and catalyst for this competition is the preservation of Castle Pinckney, the oldest remaining fortification in Charleston Harbor. Due to age, poor site conditions, and biological attack, structural and cosmetic damages to the masonry structure have occurred and must be addressed to prevent further degradation. The intent of the proposal is to preserve the existing state of the castle while providing a raised belvedere within the exterior walls for visitors to view preservation progress and the scenic views of Charleston from this unique vantage point.