Lesson Plan: Overview

Charleston Architectural Study

Grade Level: 8th

Student Work Model 2

Academic Standards

No academic standards available for this lesson plan.

Social Studies Literacy Elements

B. Establish chronological order in constructing one’s own historical narrative.
G. Make and Record Observations about the physical and human characteristics of places.
L. Interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flowcharts, diagrams, photographs, painting cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts.
V. Use a variety of media to develop and organize integrated summaries of social studies intervals. 

Historical Background Notes

There are 2800 historical buildings in the Charleston area.  There are eight architectural styles specifically seen across the Lowcountry.  The eight styles, along with a brief description of each, are as follows: 

The Colonial style was seen during the pre-Revolutionary period from the 1600s to the mid-1700s.  Colonial style buildings have a low foundation and comparatively few windows.  Charleston’s John Lining House is an exception.

The Georgian style is marked by boxed chimneys and raised basements.  Drayton Hall and Middleton Place are two examples.  Drayton Hall is also known for its Palladian architectural features, copied from the style of the 16th century architect Andreas Palladio.

The Federal style appeared in the post-Revolutionary War period.  The Aiken-Rhett House is in the Federal style, although William Aiken, Jr. added Greek Revival features after 1831.  The Federal style is marked by balconies, staircases, and fan lights.

Many changes took place in America between the founding of the new nation and the Civil War.  Charleston continued to grow as a prosperous and important port city dependent on slave labor.  Merchants and plantation owners built elaborate homes in the city of Charleston to showcase their wealth and social prominence.  During this time the Classical revival style emerged.  Large, heavy columns, arches, and a triangular or temple pediment characterize the style.  Revival style buildings in Charleston include the County Courthouse, Market hall, and the Fireproof Building.

As the South rebuilt during Reconstruction, the Gothic Revival style emerged.  The style remained popular into the 1900s.  Gothic Revival structures have finials and a castle-like appearance.  Sometimes crenellations appear in place of finials.  The French Huguenot Church and the Old City Jail are examples of this style.

The Italianate style also appeared during Reconstruction and continued until the beginning of the twentieth century.  This style has low pitched roofs and cupolas, as exemplified by the Avery Institute.

The Victorian style followed on the heels of the Italianate, and buildings in this style are ornate and contain many fine details.  The Wentworth Mansion is an example.

Art Deco buildings appeared in the Jazz Age of the 1920s, a period of carefree prosperity.  Motion pictures with recorded sound first appeared at this time, so it is appropriate that the Riviera Theatre is built in this style.  Art Deco buildings generally have narrow windows and colorful decorative details.  The old Cavallero building off the Savannah Highway, now a car showroom, is also in the Art Deco style.

A lot of history is embodied in historical buildings located across South Carolina, especially on college campuses.  The College of Charleston, the Citadel, the University of South Carolina and Clemson University all boast architecturally significant buildings such as Randolph Hall, the South Carolina State Arsenal, the South Caroliniana Library, and Fort Hill Plantation.

Buildings speak and by analyzing their form, function, and structure the thoughts and lifestyles of the people who utilized them may be heard.  Three important questions, when applied to historic buildings, are starting points for uncovering clues and contributing to the study of history:  Is the building for public or private use?  What is the social class of the people who lived in or used the building? How does the structure make you feel?


  Primary Sources
  In this lesson, the buildings of Charleston are the primary sources.  See the Charleston County Public Library Architecture and Preservation link for descriptions and examples of lowcountry architecture styles.

Architectural Clues from the South Carolina Gazette, 1735-1769

  Secondary Sources
  “Architectural Styles of Historic Charleston.”  Poster.  Charleston: Drayton Hall Historic Foundation, 1990.
  Blumenson, John J.G.  Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945.  New York: Norton, 1981.
  Dietsch, Deborah K.  Architecture for Dummies.  New York: Wiley, 2002.
  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, the Education Service Area, Alexia J. Helsley, director, and the Publications Service Area, Judith M. Andrews, director. “Jehu Jones:  Free Black Entrepreneur.”  Educational Document Packets 1-8.  CD-ROM.  Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1997.
  “History of Aiken-Rhett House.”  Historic Charleston Foundation.  Accessed online on 8 August 2003.
  Horne, Paul A. and Patricia Klein.  South Carolina: The History of an American State.  Alabama: Clairmont, 2000.
  Lownsbury, Carl R.  From Statehouse to Courthouse: An Architectural History of South Carolina’s Colonial Capitol and Charleston County Courthouse.  Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.
  Moore, Margaret.  Complete Charleston: A Guide to the Architecture, History, and Gardens of Charleston.  Mount Pleasant, S.C.: Mills, 1997.
  Nichols, Frederick D.  “Drayton Hall: A Plantation House of Charleston.”  Antiques (Special Issue, 1970).
  Poppeliers, John C., S. Allen Chambers, Jr., and Nancy B. Schwartz.  What Style Is It? A Guide to American Architecture.  Wahington, D.C.: Preservation, 1983.
  Poston, Jonathan H.  The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture.  Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  Ravenel, Beatrice St. Julien.  “The Public Buildings of Charleston.”  Antiques (Special Issue, 1970).
  Simons, Albert and Samuel Lapham, Jr., eds.  The Early Architecture of Charleston.  Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
  Stuckey, Sterling and Linda Kerrigan Salvucci.  Call to Freedom.  Austin: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Harcourt Brace, 2000.
  United States.  Department of the Interior.  National Park Service.  National Register of Historic Places.  “Charleston’s Historic, Religious, and Community Buildings.”  Accessed online on 9 October 2003.
  White, Diana S., ed.  Architectural Elements: The Technological Revolution.  New York: Bonanza, 1972.
  Architectural Styles Coloring Book
  Buildings as Primary Sources (PowerPoint)
  Project Introduction
  Read Aloud Lecture Notes
  Study Guide
  Vocabulary and Main Ideas

Lesson Plans

The “Charleston Architectural Study” challenges students to measure the values of past generations through the symbolic features of the buildings they constructed.  This lesson was originally conducted over a two-week period. Daily lessons included various discussion topics. Allow 90 minutes per day.
Day 1 With Buildings as Primary Sources, introduce the unit of study. Emphasize two primary ideas: 1) architecture is a cultural expression; and 2) architecture is a primary source of historical evidence. Introduce the architecture project and rubric. Have students review the project with their parents. Have parents sign and return the project description
Day 2 Using the Internet, have students review the Architecture and Preservation link to learn about architectural styles, and to see color images of lowcountry architecture.

Next, take students outside to analyze the school’s architecture. Have students record their observations about the building. Discussion topic: What is architecture and how can it contribute to the study of history? For homework, have students describe, in writing, their home’s architectural features.
Day 3 Lecture and note-taking activity on architectural style descriptions. (See Historical background notes and Architecture and Preservation link for information about various architecture styles). Discussion topic: List your chosen building and why it is your favorite.
Days 4 & 5 Time period and vocabulary group activity. In groups, have students research six historical eras: Pre-Revolutionary, Post-Revolutionary, Antebellum, Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Jazz Age. Have students identify vocabulary terms and study main ideas, including the three principles of analyzing architecture and the three essential questions to ask when analyzing architecture. See Vocabulary and Main Ideas. Discussion topic 1: What is the style of your chosen building? Discussion topic 2: Describe your chosen building in your own words.
Day 6 Read aloud about early South Carolina history. See Read Aloud Lecture Notes. Discussion topic: Compare and contrast Colonial style to Victorian style using a thinking map.
Day 7 Project inquiry day.  Give students class time to research for the written portion of the project.  Discussion topic: Describe the Classical style.
Day 8 Architecture Styles Quiz. Assess student learning of architectural styles, vocabulary, and notes.  Discussion topic: Compare and contrast the Art Deco and Gothic Revival styles using a thinking map.
Day 9 Students complete the architectural coloring book activity. Discussion topic: Describe the Federal, Georgian, and Italianate styles of architecture.
Day 10 Create time lines that include both time periods and architectural styles.   Discussion topic: Tell one thing about each of the following time periods – antebellum, Civil War, pre-Revolutionary, post-Revolutionary, Reconstruction, and Jazz Age.
Day 11 Have students study the Charleston Gazette advertisements: 1) "Imported" 2) "To be sold/To be let," and 3) "Architecture."   Discuss how ads for house sales today differed from those of the 1700s.  Discussion topic:  Where do you think the ideas, materials, and manpower came from to build the homes and buildings of the Lowcountry?
Day 12 Time periods quiz. Review time periods. Then, assess student learning of time periods. Remind students about project requirements.  Discussion topic: If you were an architect, what types of buildings would you construct and how would you advertise your skills?
Day 13 Architecture projects are due and class presentations begin.
Day 14 Project presentations, day 2.
Day 15 Presentations, day 3. Review study guide for the final test.
Day 16 Assess student learning with Test given.
Day 17 Visit an historic house museum.

Teacher Reflections

When we were introduced to the architecture portion of the Teaching American History institute, I was completely uninterested in it and paid little attention to the details given at the Drayton Hall visit.  It was not until days later that I thought about the visit to Drayton Hall, along with Jennifer Coe’s presentation on architecture that I began to rethink my “prejudices” about teaching and learning more about architecture and what it tells us about history.  By the end of the summer institute I had decided I would present a lesson to my students about architecture, thus finding myself searching for sources and ideas of how I would present the information considering I knew so little.  Along with the poster, CD, and coloring book I had purchased for the project during the institute, I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me.

Upon completion of our class, I began feverishly working on the lesson, which later turned into a project – for me and for my students!  I knew if I were going to ask my students to construct an architectural styled building that I would have to do the same.  From then on, the rest of my summer concentrated on this project.  By the time school began, I had spent time at the Charleston County Library, South Carolina Historical Society, A.C. Moore, and Mailboxes, Etc.

I decided to place my homemade building – made of a Cheerios box, two cans of spray paint, sand, construction paper, lots of glue, baby doll mirrors, puff paint, matches, and popsicle sticks - in my classroom before I even mentioned the project.  I wanted to see if the students would ask me about it, and sure enough they did!  I was able to introduce the project weeks before it officially began by posing the question to students, “What are several ways in which we can learn about history?”  Even before I assigned the project students started asking me which buildings they could construct.  For instance, one student asked, “Can I do Rainbow Row?”  The boys were the most intrigued by the project and by far built the largest and most elaborate buildings.  The girls enjoyed bringing in edible buildings and including additional accessories such as pictures in the windows, greenery, and even a Barbie doll horse for a Middleton Place replication.  I had a few students bring in their projects early, which I believe motivated the others.  Some students brought in projects that lit up while others made theirs out of legos, Popsicle sticks, Styrofoam, and sugar cubes!  The day the projects were due I could not stop smiling.  I kept going by other teacher’s rooms to tell them to come to mine!  I was so excited about the outcome of this project.  Other teachers asked me how I got my students to do such projects and wanted to get copies of my lesson plans.  I received an email from our art teacher who complimented my students and myself on the projects, which I thought was a big honor!  I told my students they had given me the best birthday present ever, as my birthday was a few days before the project due date.  The students exceeded my expectations and definitely put my building to shame.  A bonus to this project was the opportunity to meet so many of my student’s parents.

The building construction worked, but the note-taking activities involved in the project did not.  Overall, the students did very well on the final assessment and the grades for the quizzes varied by class.  I know that this lesson was effective because even now in subsequent lessons such as the Native American focus, students related the Gothic Revival style to the description of a palisade and identified pottery decorated by Native Americans as “elaborate,” a term they used to describe Victorian style buildings.  Furthermore, the focus on time periods in this lesson has definitely served my students well.  We refer back to the time periods constantly when talking about current and future lessons.  This architecture project has “set the stage” for the rest of the year for my students.  They know they will be focusing on all the time periods introduced in this lesson, except the Jazz Age, which they will learn in high school.  And finally, the students enjoyed seeing primary documents and would ask me, “This was really written?”  They could not believe they were looking at a real copy of a newspaper ad from 1763.  By the time I showed primary documents in my Native American lesson they began asking, “Where do you get these from?”

Student Assessment

Student assessment was based on discussion topics, quizzes, final exam, and the architecture construction project.  Daily reviews in the form of question and answer sessions were also taken into account.  

1. Architectural Style Quiz

2. Time Periods Quiz

3. Final Test

4. Project Rubric

Examples of Students Work


Allison Schwerin
College Park Middle School, South Carolina