massengale.typepad.com > Charleston, West Virginia
Capitol Street

Introduction

On 2/3/04 1:31 PM, "Douglas Duany" wrote:

> The very rich alternatives between straight and picturesque have been
> explored, but designers still default to one or the other....

Capital Street in Charleston, West Virginia is interesting for several reasons. It's a worthwhile stop if you're passing through Charleston on the interstate.

First of all, Capital and a few surrounding streets show how much of an effect subtle interventions in the grid can have. Charleston sits in a flat river plain narrowly hemmed in by mountains that parallel the river on each side. As can be seen from the photos, Capital bends slightly with small changes in the topography. This transforms the vistas looking up and down the street: instead of a long space with unterminated vistas, the space becomes more contained, with an emphasis on buildings at key points. These become a visual focus, rather than something the eye slides by.

Douglas pointed out to me in Charleston, South Carolina that it's often better to turn streets with straight pieces and angles than with curves. That's what's done in Charleston, West Virginia: look at the granite curbs.

Second, at the intersection of Capital and Lee Streets is a small triangular park that takes up the irregular space made by the slight shift of the grids. Seen in photos 5, 6 and 7, and just visible on left in photo 4, the park is difficult to photograph with a small digital camera at the end of a dark, rainy day. But in person it's a comfortable space, and exactly of the configuration that New Urbanists like to draw in their plans.

Third, Capital Street was given a beautification treatment about 10 years ago, which was well done. The materials and the furnishings were well chosen, and the details never overwhelm the space of the street, which is the problem with so many of these efforts. Note that the bumpouts are only only at a few select points and only on the side of the parked cars, which minimizes their spatial intrusion and makes them support the experience of the street.

Charleston has a beautiful capitol building on the river, and it and Capital Street make an interesting interstate break. Capital has a good bookstore and coffee shop, with WiFi, called Taylor Books.