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The College of the Lost Arts

(Photo: American College of the Building Arts)

Charleston, South Carolina is a beautiful city. Despite the ravages of war in previous centuries, it has preserved much of its historical architecture--that is, until 1989, when Hurricane Hugo did what British and Union armies could not.

Lovely old buildings were badly damaged. To make matters worse, no one knew how to repair them because those historical trades had almost vanished. Amy Crawford explains in CityLab:

Not since the earthquake of 1886 had the city seen such devastation, and as residents set about rebuilding, they soon realized they had another problem on their hands: a shortage of artisans trained in skills like masonry, ironwork, and plastering, necessary to repair the city's famous historic buildings.

City leaders responded by establishing a new school to teach these old building trades. But the American College of the Building Arts isn't just a trade school. Students who attend get a thorough liberal arts education. In fact, Amy Cawford tells us, it's "the only school in the United States to offer a bachelor's degree in the traditional building trades." She describes it:

Every student in the college majors in building arts, but can choose one of six specializations: architectural stone, carpentry, forged architectural iron, masonry, plasterwork, or timber framing. The college seeks to combine a traditional liberal arts curriculum with intensive crafts training, often teaching disciplines like history or math by way of the latter; for example, history is taught with an architectural history focus. 

"The graduate here has learned both the art and the science of preservation and new construction," says Colby M. Broadwater III, a retired Army lieutenant general brought in as president in 2008 to apply some military discipline to the school's finances. "How to build a business, the drawing and drafting that underlies all of it … the language, the math that supports the building functions, the science of why materials fail—all of those things wrapped into a liberal arts and science education."

The college is currently located in the jail that Charleston built in 1802. When the school acquired the building, it had been vacant for half a century. The students restored it themselves, learning their trades as they did so.

-via Sarah Hoyt


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