After the completion of the Jetty House in 2006, we were contacted by another Folly Beach resident [Carson Project] to look at expansion options for his existing one-story beach bungalow.  Due to modified zoning codes and a building moratorium enforced on the island, the site constraints became more challenging than our previous experience with the Jetty House. These developmental challenges motivated us to question the regional and local design solutions that would balance the newly applied restrictions with a more desirable coastal architecture.

‘Wedding cake’ setbacks

First, the setbacks were modified so that the distance from the lot line increase as the height of the house increased.  This type of setback ordinance typically produces a type of ‘wedding cake’ form that is more typical of high-rises like those in New York City.  The initial purpose of this setback was to prevent natural light from being blocked from tall adjacent structures, which is a more common problem in an urban setting with high-rise buildings.  Natural light is hardly a problem for the 1 to 3-story structures found on Folly Beach; however, it seems that their purpose here was to preserve views to the ocean.  Secondly, due to its immediate adjacency to the Atlantic Ocean, zoning and insurance ordinances require that any occupied space be located a certain distance above the 100-year flood plain.  In the case of the Jetty House, one has to walk up 14’ feet of stairs before reaching the first floor.  The storms of recent history suggest that it is a good idea to provide a datum for rising water to move freely, but this restriction poses serious design challenges.  Combined with bad design, most of the houses on Folly Beach look like transplanted suburban colonials planted on poorly designed concrete stilts.

While designing the Jetty House, we considered the design of the ground level to be very critical to the success of the house.  We recognized that a 14’ ground level would not only affect the overall scale of the building in relationship to its adjacent structures, but it would also pose scalar challenges for somebody entering the house.  To balance the adverse scalar affects, we incorporated an exterior fence and native landscaping that visually united the house to the ground.  We also designed the underside of the house as a ‘5th façade’ that would begin to establish a residential entry sequence for those entering the house.  Through the use of lighting and contrasting materials, the house’s underside departs from the neighboring houses that have flat and untreated soffits.

For the Carson Project, we were dealing with a more interior site and a low existing building as opposed to the second-row site and three-story Jetty House.  To combat the setback requirements, we began an analysis of oceanfront and interior sites that became a part of a larger investigation of Folly Beach planning.  The current Folly environment consists of older and much smaller houses being overrun by newer and larger houses.  The more valuable land at the water’s edge is being acquired more rapidly with the newer and taller houses being built.  This creates a real problem for owners of inland property whose houses no longer have any visual connection to the ocean.  Furthermore, land value is intimately connected to water proximity and ocean view for coastal areas such as Folly Beach.

Diagram of existing Folly Beach fabric


We propose that the height of new development be in relationship to its proximity to the ocean so that a more balanced property value may exist across the narrow section of the island.  Houses closest to the ocean would be the fewest stories, while the houses more inland, would be taller to take advantage of the distant, but now attainable, views.

Diagram of proposed Folly Beach fabric with inland height shift

The ocean surrounds Folly Beach, but unfortunately, the physical connections to the water are weak.  Immediately adjacent to the beach is private property, and the few streets that end on the beach are distant and primarily vehicular.  We propose that a continuous public loop wrap the edges of Folly Beach and connect both ends of the island.  This connective loop would also engage with Folly’s natural marshes and its beaches.  Regularly spaced pedestrian access paths would intersect the loop and unite the public to the beach.

Diagram of proposed Folly Beach fabric with existing beach access and connective loop


Diagram of proposed Folly Beach fabric with pedestrian connectors