Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Civic Edifice Splendor

Below is a list of 24 architecturally noteworthy large civic buildings located within the central business district or on the CBD fringe. Not every building on the list is a statement piece. However, all have design significance to an extent, even if only for quirkiness (the Municipal Auditorium, for example) or for being a respectably solid example of a mediocre or bad period or style of architecture (for instance, Tennessee State University's Avon Williams Campus Building, which is designed in the brutalist style) .

Among second-tier mid-sized American cities, would Nashville rank in the Top 5 based on sheer number of quality civic structures in a central business district/downtown? I've explored (often thoroughly) about 25 American cities in the 1 million to 2.5 million metro population range, and think this might be the case. Sadly, what is missing in Nashville's urban core is the fine-grained manmade fabric — the smaller buildings that render a more human scale and encourage pedestrian activity. Perhaps infill of this type will unfold in time, as downtown Nashville has numerous surface parking lots on which buildings of three to five stories would work well. Until then, our city can boast of offering the following important large civic structures:


State Capitol
State Supreme Court
State Library and Archives
John Sevier Building
Cordell Hull Building
Metro Courthouse
A.A. Birch Building
Ben West Building
Metro Administrative Building (former main library)
Main Library
Hume-Fogg High School
TSU-Avon Williams Campus Building
United States Courthouse (finished in 1950 and fronting Broadway)


Music City Central (transit hub)


Sommet Center
Municipal Auditorium
LP Field


War Memorial Building
Schermerhorn Symphony Center
The Ryman Auditorium


Frist Center for the Visual Arts
Country Music Hall of Fame


Downtown YMCA (expanded version)
NES Building
The Arcade

Not Included on the List for Various Reasons (including bad design and/or a lack of "civic-ness"):

Churches (there are six)
Nashville Convention Center (hideous)
General office buildings used primarily by government (Snodgrass, Andrew Jackson, Citizens Plaza, Rachel Jackson, etc.)
Customs House (a private building)
Hotels (various)
Farmers Market (uninspired)
Masonic Lodge (privately used)
Estes Kefauver Federal Courthouse Annex (finished in 1970; very boxy and bland)
Nashville Star's Riverfront Park structure (goofball Rocky Mountain lodge theme)