Mixson neighborhood takes shape
Flexibility a must in urbanist community’s courtyard
By Robert Behre The Post and Courier Monday, November 24, 2008
Those designing Mixson’s first public space knew it needed to be special â€” and not just because the mayor bought the pink home right across the street.
The courtyard needed to be both beautiful and flexible because it serves as the only outdoor space for six new residences that border on it.
And it had to be special because it will do much to shape the public’s first impression of Mixson, a unique new urbanist neighborhood off Mixson Avenue, southwest of North Charleston’s Park Circle.
The neighborhood is the creation of the I’On Group, a company named after its traditional, walkable neighborhood in Mount Pleasant.
But where I’On’s plan calls for about 760 homes on 240 acres â€” or about three homes per acre â€” Mixson’s plan calls for 950 units on 44 acres, about 21 units per acre.
The Post and Courier
Anyone living that close together deserves a quality urban space in return, and that’s also why Tim Keane of Keane & Co. fussed over its design.
The courtyard plan began with the tall oak in its center, which dominates the space in a good way.
The tree serves as sort of a grand Gothic ceiling to this outdoor room.
“This tree was of no great note when we walked around the site, but now, it’s like, how could you do without it?” Keane says.
Keane says the design also was inspired by Pirates Courtyard in downtown Charleston, a small outdoor area off Church Street framed by several residences.
“Obviously, that’s hundreds of years old, and it has the quality of a place that has random plants and individual expressions and an evolution of use over time,” Keane says.
Mixson’s new courtyard is paramount in the neighborhood design. The surrounding buildings were designed specifically to frame it. This isn’t simply an attempt to make the best of leftover space between new homes.
The new homes also create the feel of an outdoor room; they serve as its walls. The bluestone, Belgian blocks and grass make a handsome floor. The low concrete walls and seating are treated with a special baking soda mix to give them a more interesting, slightly worn look.
“Quality materials are a huge deal,” Keane says. “Poor materials would have killed it.”
Finally, the design recognizes that this space must serve many masters.
Keane says that ideally, people will feel free to use it as they please.
“It’s a place to bring a cup of coffee or let your children run around a little bit or have a neighborhood party â€” any of those things,” he says.
The courtyard provides the first tangible glimpse of one of the Lowcountry’s most unique new neighborhoods.
Its ultra-density is partly explained by the existence of nearby major streets and parks, which Mixson didn’t need to add in nearly the same degree that I’On needed.
Keane says Mixson’s design also fulfills the spirit of Park Circle’s original early 20th-century plan of a central park fronted by larger home lots while several diagonal streets, such as Durant Avenue and East Montague Avenue, have dense housing and commercial uses.
Mixson’s mix of building types means that while it ultimately may hold 950 homes, it may look like there’s only about 400 since many share a common roof.
Still, it’s a novel approach, one that might have encountered stiff political opposition in other places.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has been a big supporter, and his help has not gone unappreciated.
That’s another reason why the designers probably felt a special drive to create a quality courtyard: It is bordered partly by Summey Street.