Behre: An interesting experiment is planted at The Battery | Remark

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One of the challenges of preserving Charleston is determining when it is acceptable to use new materials.

Sometimes they can be a near-perfect fit, like the earthquake bolts and plates added to many historic homes rocked by the 1886 earthquake (and after the increased availability of steel for structural support). Far from being considered eyesores, they are often pointed out by tourist guidebooks as architectural ornaments unique to Charleston.

Other times they can be disastrous. The Second Presbyterian Church is just the newest of dozens of significant city landmarks that were painted with elastomeric paint more than a decade ago. The idea then was that this new material would provide a waterproof barrier and prevent stucco, bricks and mortar from getting wet. We’ve since learned (the hard way) that these waterproof barriers actually undermine stucco, brick and mortar, which soak up water from the ground and stay soggy because the elastomeric paint keeps them from drying out.

Which brings us to the new low-battery glass panel. Its unveiling last week marks the start of what could be a decades-long experiment in whether this new material could play a significant role in keeping the city dry.

It looks impressive now, and its inscription also functions as a tribute to the city leaders, designers and contractors who played a role in rebuilding and raising the low battery, a $60 million effort. dollars which is halfway there and which fortunately arrives on time and within budget. .

But what will it look like in a year? Or five years? Or 10? Will it look like it does today, or could it fog up like a headlight on a car that’s regularly parked outside? How often might it need to be cleaned to stay beautiful?

Plus, will it stay securely attached to its concrete base and bollards? Will it withstand the storm surges that lay against it?

All we know for sure is that it’s in a brutal location: the sign will be bombarded by salt spray, direct, scorching sun, rain and less common but still problematic freezing temperatures, storm surges and human mischief.

What is reassuring is that we do not need answers now. It will be many years, if not decades, before a future mayor and city council will decide whether Charleston would benefit from more widespread use of this type of thick glass with a laminated layer of silicone on the inside.

It promises to be a watertight barrier that would not obstruct the view of the water, which is one of the main concerns with plans to build a new wall around the Charleston Peninsula to reduce flooding caused by storm surges.

While low battery work is technically not part of the Army Corps of Engineers’ $1.1 billion perimeter protection project, it was designed with that in mind. The rebuilt walkway is no longer low: it is 2.5 meters taller, making it feel as tall as the High Battery. But it was also designed to support panels, glass or otherwise, that could eventually be installed where the railings are today, buying the city a few more feet of protection. The pace of this work will depend on many factors, including how fast the sea rises, how many severe storms hit us, and the city’s future financial situation.

The new panel was donated by Floodproofing.coma New Jersey company that has had similar glass installed on other projects and can wisely spot a good marketing opportunity.

And the city has wisely accepted it because while new materials often appear with promises of savings, longevity and value, nothing beats the test of time.

As Councilman Mike Seekings told reporter Emma Whalen, “It looks good so far. We’ll see what the future holds.”

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