Gibbs Surrounds Us

IMG_2232The influence of 18th-century Scottish architect James Gibbs can be found throughout Charleston, although few in this city have ever heard of him or give him credit for his distinctive style. Gibbs, like many architects of his day, was dedicated to incorporating ancient Roman and Greek styles into his buildings, and became a proponent of Mannerism, which put great emphasis on symmetry and spatial relationships in parts of the buildings.
His classic work was St. Martin-In-The-Fields in London, which set the standard for American Anglican church architecture. Gibbs broke from earlier English tradition and placed his steeple behind the grand portico of the church to accentuate the spatial relationship between the upper and lower details of the building, and this steeple-portico arrangement can clearly be seen in St. Michael’s church in Charleston. It’s obvious that Gibbs’ 1728 book of architecture was used to copy the design for St. Michael’s exterior, and ironically, over at St. Philip’s church, the interior is a dead-ringer for St. Martin-In-The-Fields.
One of Gibbs’ trademark details is the space between elaboration in arches that is clear in St. Philip’s interior. This look of separate block details surrounding doors and windows is actually named after the famous architect, and is called a “Gibbs Surround”.
Look at classic buildings throughout historic Charleston, and you will find yourself literally “surrounded” buy the influence of James Gibbs, who, by the way, never visited Charleston.

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