Envisioning Charleston documents Charleston as one of the best-built cities in America. During the colonial and antebellum periods, architecture was ardently patronized as a way of expressing civic aspirations and personal wealth. The survival of venerable structures and the protection of them by historic preservation have combined to create a coherent and homogeneous cityscape in which the architectural tensions between conservatism and progress are minimized.
The concept of Envisioning Charleston implies that buildings are visions of their creators, first exemplified in architectural drawings, several of which are included in the exhibition. Once erected, buildings continue to express cultural values. They inspire further visions whenever artists illustrate them in prints and paintings. These images lend authority to preservationists who protect the built environment and to contemporary architects who in their work respect historic structures. The sum of this envisioning reveals what is distinctive about Charleston's architecture and indicates how this heritage can continue in the next century.