The Leaning Piazzas of Charleston

The leaning piazzas of Charleston…. Given the concern about the rakish angle of the piazza floor here at the Chancognie House (pictured above) I thought that I should address this unique architectural feature. Having lived here for almost twelve years, I must admit that I am so accustomed to seeing it that I lost track of just how unusual it looks. 

At this house, the upper piazza floor is sloped while the door on the first floor is level – see below for why this is the case.
From the street, some piazzas appear to be level at the entry because there are steps inside the door leading to the sloped floor.

First, let me start off by noting that while the term piazza may often be used to describe an open square, it is used in reference to a porch under a roof in Charleston. Given the temperate climate here, piazzas are a natural outdoor extension of living space. Alas, this has not been the situation at the Chancognie House for the past few years here where the piazzas have been the site of restoration work and equipment storage, but rest assured that will be changing soon.

The piazza here at the Chancognie House has not been a site for quiet contemplation the past few years.
Piazzas are a common feature on single houses (another unique architectural style in Charleston, these houses are one room wide) and function as an extension of the living space.
While slanted piazzas are frequently seen on single houses here in Charleston, they also appear on double houses.

A former intern here at the Chancognie House, Alena Franco, did an extensive survey of piazzas for her master’s thesis on Charleston piazzas at the Clemson/College of Charleston Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. One of her primary findings – there is no such thing as a “typical” Charleston piazza. An article about her fascinating research appeared in the Post & Courier which you can read here. And no, I did not pay her to say that her favorite piazza is here at the Chancognie House!

This piazza is unusual in that the roof of the house extends over the piazza – more often, the piazza has its own separate roof.

As for the slope, this is intentional to allow water to drain off the floors of the piazzas. The angle of the piazza varies and is sometimes exaggerated by settling over time which is a significant issue with piazzas. In fact, it was an issue with the piazza here (more about that soon), but after careful study and work, it has been restored to its original angle. So, thanks to everybody who was concerned about the piazza here at the Chancognie House, but it is safe and secure for another two hundred plus years!

While the floors on piazzas are intentionally slanted, the angle can be exaggerated as piazzas are prone to settling.
Especially on single houses where space is at a premium, piazzas were sometimes enclosed in full, as on the right, or in part to accommodate modern conveniences such as bathrooms.

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