Learned amateur architecture in our country antedates our republic. From the builders of early manor and plantation houses, who followed the latest pattern books shipped from England, to celebrated amateurs such as Gabriel Manigault of Charleston and Thomas Jefferson, Americans with limited or no professional education in drafting or engineering have fancied themselves architects in the European tradition, erecting along the way some of the most celebrated buildings and, in ensemble, towns in the country. In and around Charleston, South Carolina, a vestige—or perhaps a revival—of that practice continues today. Witold Rybczynski, an emeritus professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, in his latest book, Charleston Fancy, engagingly tells the story of a group of like-minded friends whose understanding, curiosity, and whimsy fit squarely within this very American...


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