Seek the councils of the great men of the past & the study of their thinking will enrich our work with that sense of beauty now absent.

– Albert Simons

Albert Simons (1890 – 1980), had an immensely influential sixty-year career as an architect and preservationist in Charleston, South Carolina, where he is best known for his extensive preservation work and architectural design.  He played a key role in the Charleston Renaissance, wherein he would help create many nationally prominent preservation functions such as the zoning ordinance for the historic district, the first such ordinance in America, with municipal austerity, and the first Board of Architectural Review. As a professor at the College of Charleston for over 20 years, he started the School of the Arts.

Image at left is Across the Marketplace, Charleston, S.C. Albert Simons Sketchbook, 1912-1916. The College of Charleston Libraries. All rights reserved.

Raised With Design

Young Albert

Born in 1890, Albert Simons was descended from a long line of influential Charleston families. His father, Dr. Thomas Grange Simons, was a physician and a public servant who encouraged public health through the advocacy of proper sewers and infrastructure. Simon’s’ uncle, [[William Martin Aiken]], was a very successful architect who designed many large classical building projects, such as “Old Post Office Pavilion” in Washington D.C.

Albert Simons enrolled at the College of Charleston for his first year and completed his B.S. and M.S. degrees in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

Influenced by the World

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After graduation he traveled through Europe and Northern Africa studying architecture, and finished his trip studying at the Ernest Hébrard|Atelier Hébrard in Paris.  During his travels, Simons created hundreds of wonderful travel sketches and watercolors, fulfilling the Beaux-Arts-instilled desire to learn through sketching great examples of architecture.

Upon returning to Charleston in 1915, he became one of the first instructors of architecture at the Clemson University|Clemson School of Architecture.  During this time, Simon’s worked briefly as a partner in the firm of Todd, Simons and Todd, until he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army during WWI. Simon’s also volunteered to serve in France in WWII.

Albert called his generation the last products of the Beaux Arts.

“The young radicals of the Depression Days are now gray haired conservatives designing most of the big jobs. The time should not be now far distant for a fresh crop of young radicals with hatchets sharpened to cut the props from under the established order. If I may venture a guess they will not lead us back to orthodoxy and Vignola, but I hope to a revived respect for those fundamental qualities such as scale, harmony and character that have always been in accord with sensitive human preferences and therefore differentiate Architecture from Engineering.”

– Albert Simons

Simons & Lapham

On July 8th, 1920, when Albert Simons was 30 years old, he joined forces with Samuel Lapham VI to create the firm “Simons & Lapham.” Their work focused mainly with traditional homes, but did industrial, religious, educational, public, transportation, and restoration buildings. Even though during the Great Depression, the firm proved to be very successful. Their main commissions came through federally sponsored work, like the College of Charleston gymnasium or large plantation projects funded by wealthy northerners.

Throughout the years though, Simons received local and national acclaim for work in the area of architectural design, preservation, and city planning. Samuel & Lapham worked actively with the Charleston City government to protect and restore historic homes and would be extensively involved with the American Building Survey. Some of the firm;s most famous work included assistance with restoration of the famous “Rainbow Row”, the renovation of the Planter’s Hotel on Church St., the Dock Street Theater, and the design of the new Memminger Auditorium.

In addition to their work, both partners co-edited books of detailed historical research on the architecture of Charleston including, The Octagon Library of Early American Architecture, Vol 1: Charleston, SC (1927) and Plantations of the Carolina Low Country (1939).

Other Achievements

In Simon’s years of work in Charleston, he helped create the first historic district in America, the first Board of Architectural Review (BAR), and worked actively as a Fellows of the American Institute of Architects. He was a founding member and played a key role in the Society for Preservation of Old Dwellings, known today as the Preservation Society of Charleston, and as a leading member on the team that produced This is Charleston, a building-by-building study of the historic peninsula.

Simons would also serve on the boards of most of Charleston’s civic and cultural institutions, being a board member of the College of Charleston, the Charleston Museum, the Charleston Library Society, St. Michael’s Church, and the Charleston Poetry Society.

College of Charleston & The Albert Simons Medal of Excellence

Albert Simons began teaching at the College of Charleston in 1924, and created the first Art History course at the College later that year. He continued to teach at the college until 1948. He helped this single course evolve into the School of the Arts.  

Today, the school’s building is named in his honor, Albert Simons Center for the Arts. After the 20th anniversary of the College of Charleston’s School of the Arts, the Simon’s Medal of Excellence was established to honor qualified individuals who have excelled in one or more of the areas in which Albert Simons excelled, including civic design, architectural design, historic preservation and urban planning.

Each year, we celebrate the chance to add another honoree to our growing list of architectural leaders from around the world. Please join us at the event and learn more about the evening at the ceremony section of our website.

Links

  • Albert Simon Papers

    Papers consist of correspondence and other materials concerning Simons’ professional and personal affiliations and pursuits, as well as writings, architectural drawings, and other items. Included are the papers of Harriet P. Stoney Simons and a photograph album of Simons & Lapham

  • 1912-1913 Sketch Book

    Sketches of buildings and architectural features in Turkey, Italy, and Spain, by Charleston architect Albert Simons.

  • 1912-1915 Sketch Book

    Sketches of buildings and architectural features in Europe and Maryland, by Charleston architect Albert Simons.

  • 1912-1916 Sketch Book

    Sketches of Turkey, Greece, France, and South Carolina, by Charleston architect Albert Simons.

  • 1918-1919 Sketch Book

    Sketches by Charleston architect Albert Simons during his military service in Europe during World War I. The images depict buildings of France, and soldiers and civilians of many nationalities.

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