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.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Last week, the Nashville District of the Urban Land Institute recognized nine area developments with its Excellence in Development Awards.
Each project was to have been completed in either 2007 or 2008, though for some reason the Schermerhorn Symphony Center (which was finished in 2006) found its way among the winners.
Other projects recognized included Belmont Lofts, Edgehill Village, The Hill Center in Green Hills, ICON in The Gulch, the Noah Liff Opera House; Summer Street Lofts, Vanderbilt University's The Commons and the W.O. Smith Nashville Community Music School.
Evaluation criteria included innovation in land use and design, design excellence, contributions to the community and exhibiting community character, public/private partnership, environmental sensitivity and financial viability.
No doubt, the nine winners are deserving of recognition, as each is strong in various areas. However, there are five buildings absent from the list that are worth mentioning.
On that note, I present the “Bill Williams Excellence in Development Awards — an ‘Alternative Quintet’ — for Nashville Buildings Completed in 2007-08.” One judge (admittedly with his biases) and three key criteria: new construction, distinctive design and symbolic emphasis.
Adelicia (Midtown): Of Nashville’s eight residential towers of six floors or more and opened this decade — Adelicia, Encore, Icon, Rhythm, Viridian, The West End, West End Lofts, West End Lofts II — Adelicia trails only Terrazzo (which opened this year and, as such, would not qualify for this “ranking”) in attractiveness and functionality. The building’s materials, colors, forms, massing, private pocket park and relationship to its surroundings are top notch. Inside, the 20-story tower shines with a distinctive layout, inviting commons areas and variety of unit floorplans. Though unlikely to eventually be viewed among iconic Nashville skyscrapers that include (as examples and listed chronologically) the American Trust Building, the L&C Tower and the AT&T Tower, Adelicia is, nonetheless, a strong addition to the city’s collection of mid- and high-rises.
East End Lofts (East Nashville): Brick, glass and metal. Concrete floors for the residences. A commanding presence on Woodland Street (and a nice interaction with that street). Superb. Perhaps years from now, Nashvillians will look back and credit East End Lofts for jump-starting the reinvention of what is now a Woodland Street segment of buildings no more inviting than a garbage dump. Clearly, the EEL delivers contemporary design excellence.
MC3 (East Nashville): An MC3 highlight is the combination of three distinctively different buildings functioning effectively as a whole. The use of alley-accessed residences, with living spaces above garages, is quite appealing.
Tennessee Association of Realtors Building (Midtown): The TAR Building, located only a few yards from Adelicia, is one of Nashville’s best examples of dramatic 21st century architecture. Outstanding.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Quirk and Centennial Development Co. are to be commended for their choice of exterior materials and forms, all of which blend seamlessly to create a masculine and ever-so-slightly experimental building. Artesia’s highlight might just be how its angular, dark-brown-brick forms contrast with its curving roof shapes -- both a vaulted, green metal cap and a mesh-like metal border to that cap and that acts as a sleek semi-parapet. The effect is anything but subtle. Of note, Artesia’s exterior nicely combines square, rectangular and circular shapes, while its stone vertical balcony pieces extend from the façade in a straightforward yet attractive manner. Globe lawn lights add a playfully quirky touch. Balanced and well massed, Artesia strikes a commanding presence on its Parthenon Avenue site.
In short, Quirk and CDC have delivered not so much an architectural masterpiece but, instead, a masterfully attractive addition to Nashville’s built environment.
(Note: Thanks to Holly Ing for providing this writer a nice tour of Artesia’s two models and its various commons areas, particularly the entrance with its dramatic water feature. Good luck with sales, Mrs. Ing.)
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
And although the CapStar Bank brass is not likely to start sporting radical facial hair, collecting the music of Radiohead and embracing the architecture of I.M. Pei, it deserves credit for enlisting Hastings Architecture Associates to “push the design envelop” with the financial institution’s recently completed Green Hills building.
In fact, based on architectural significance, the CapStar Bank Building already ranks in the top 5 percent of Green Hills structures — although one could argue that distinction is not particularly impressive given the commercial district’s suburban-themed buildings, collectively, are emasculated by cream-colored synthetic stucco elements, impermanent-looking parapets, faux stone touches and odd attempts to appear traditional. Many of these generic structures are no more substantial architecturally than Jonas Brothers songs are lyrically.
Not so with the CapStar Bank Building.
To get a feel for the ideas HAA incorporated in this 21st century jewel, I chatted today with the firm’s Derek Schmidt, who spearheaded the project. Schmidt said Hastings opted for a Rockville (Minn.) beige granite base as an anchor to an Indiana limestone mid-section. The bulk of the building, which tops out at an effective 32 feet, has a limestone cap, as the facade “box” feature counters with an aluminum-composite cap. Similarly, the canopies are aluminum composite, while the curtain wall and storefront offer clear-anodized aluminum. The effect flirts with being dramatic.
“Most of the upper management of the bank are Nashville banking veterans,” Schmidt said. “They wanted this new branch to have a sense of permanence, but also a sense of place.”
Schmidt said CapStar officials favored some of the older Third National Bank branch design elements (in fact, the bank’s main office is in the iconic former Third National Bank Building downtown). These branches (Green Hills sports a handsome version on Hillsboro Road next to Macy's) feature limestone and marble and have aged in a dignified manner, both functionally and stylistically, since their unveiling.
“So we kind of looked at that for inspiration,” Schmidt said.
Inside the building, the floors are crafted of travertine, while wood elements derive from clear walnut. The centerpiece might just be a two-story, open-riser staircase with glass panels.
Of note, the building’s back exterior stairs are nicer than the façade elements of many Green Hills buildings.
To an extent, the CapStar Bank Building (located at 2321 Crestmoor Road and constructed by general contractor Solomon Builders Inc.) reveals, as Schmidt said, a “high-tech meets high-touch,” feel, its interior giving a “slight nod to mid-century modern.”
That nod, though subtle, is effective nonetheless, rendering the CapStar Bank Building one of the better free-standing buildings (regardless of usage) unveiled in Nashville during the past few years.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Walking the perimeter of the building, I noticed a number of nice exterior touches, particularly a clay-tiled cornice-like element near the roof line. To create a more inviting feel, GS&P added windows near the corner of the west side of the building, along which was also added new siding painted a masculine olive. Metal door frames and three metal lights (affixed to curving stems) give the building’s facade a contemporary flare. On that theme, the building’s east side offers two smallish tubular light fixtures (to provide decorative night-time illumination) that are very attractive. Colorful and playful roof-line signage for Hue (the tanning salon/clothing retail business operating from the building’s east space) is very eye-catching, with understated landscaping along the building’s east flank and a brick-surfaced parking pad and wood deck giving the back side a needed facelift.
Developer Mark Sanders is to be credited for sparing this diminutive vintage jewel. And kudos to GS&P for quality work.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Compared to First Tennessee's Looney Ricks Kiss-designed cookie-cutter "faux-traditional" free-standers on 21st Avenue, Gallatin Road and Thompson Lane, 3823 Cleghorn is a masterpiece. In contrast, First Tennessee's two contemporary branches (on West End Avenue and White Bridge Road and expertly designed by LRK) are much more eye-catching than the 3823 Cleghorn building. For that matter, I like Tuck-Hinton's quality retrofit of the West End Avenue building home to Avenue Bank more so than the design firm's built-from-scratch 3823 effort.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
A recent "update" has simply brutalized the structure, which is now topped by a "creamy pink" stucco cap on which is monstrous signage completely out of scale with the building's other parts. From some angles, the building presents itself as, essentially, a hideous roof -- and nothing else.
My 9- and 6-year-old Lego-obsessed nephews could have designed better.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
For more information, see the following:
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Sadly, these otherwise tasteful S-Park properties are often marred by horrific streetscapes. Most roads in the historic residential neighborhood have no curbs, much less sidewalks and stormwater management systems. Battered mailboxes litter these Sylvan Park streets, their asphalt-crumbling shoulders bleeding into eroding land (you can often see tire tracks from postal carrier vehicles).
Sylvan Park is not the only old-school residential district with such hideous streetscapes.
Given the condition of the shoulders and the adjacent grounds of many curbless roads in Nashville neighborhoods, I continue to be baffled why the Metro Public Works Department doesn't simply paint white stripes on either side of all these streets.
In addition to giving the roads a more defined and attractive appearance, such white lines (I've talked to various "built environment pros" about this) can subtly psychologically spur motorists to reduce their speed a bit. In addition, the white lines are very helpful (in terms of safety and visibility) for night drivers.
In fairness, Public Works has painted white lines on either shoulder of various residential streets. For example, Public Works recently repaved the segment of Graybar Lane from Leland Lane to Granny White Pike. Though it required more time than would have been expected, the department recently gave the street the "white-line painting treatment." The result is quite attractive.
Similarly, a number of well-traveled segments of key streets (including the stretch of Granny White from Harding to Otter Creek, Hillsboro Road between I-440 and Woodmont, and a stretch of Estes Road just south of the Woodmont/Estes intersection) essentially have no shoulders and are perilously elevated. These streets are striped (fortunately) but there is minimal room for a slight miscalculation. Steer a few inches to the right and your car is flying off the elevated road and into a deep ditch. At night, the hazardous conditions are likely magnified three-fold.
The Estes section I reference involves the road being elevated at some points (as if on a platform) at least three feet above ground level. And there is no more than two inches from the painted outer stripe to the edge of the asphalt shoulder. From that point, the drop is steep. Erosion (I would assume) has contributed to the problem.
I’ve visited countless American cities and driven extensively throughout these places. Nashville ranks among the worst for street conditions and streetscape attractiveness. Immediate attention is needed.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
* Work has resumed on 30North Office Condos, the four-story structure near Centennial Park and being developed by the Graymont Group (which did the 2222 Building in 12South). The big hole sat empty for what might have been a year, but now the building is out of the ground and I saw lots of equipment there today. Like 2222 (and disturbingly), some of the first-level entrance seems "above sidewalk grade," a model for which I am not a fan. However, 30North is being sited to the sidewalk, so that's encouraging.
* Work on The Maxwell in West End Park is in its final stages. I drive by about once every three weeks and from what I saw recently, seemingly no exterior progress has been made since my last drive-by. However, I did re-check a few days later and men were on the site.
* Also in West End Park, Artesia nears completion, while The Acropolis looks about 50-60 percent finished. The two buildings offer radically different exterior designs, and I'm not sure which I prefer. Artesia is very 21st century, with handsome dark brick and the type green metal roofing that will age gracefully. But some of the elements (including a handful of circular windows and some curved shapes) are questionable. In contrast, The Acropolis is stately and traditional, but excessively replica. Neither hits a home run regarding exterior design. But both are acceptable, solid additions to the general West End district.
* Velocity is showing some "1980s-popular colors" (maroon and medium olive) that look horrid. Also, the futuristic caps topping the two entrance columns — though of a sharp design — appear very impermanent and flimsy. On a positive note, Velocity offers interesting exterior shapes and definition.
* 12 & Paris (next to the Cypress Building) is out of the ground, while work on Gale Loft Apartments and Jefferson Street Lofts (between Third and Fourth) has started, too. Core Development is the developer of all three. I predict 12 & Paris will be a great addition to the city based on various factors. I'm not, however, as optimistic about the other two, as they border no buildings specifically and are sited within overall "built-fabric contexts" that are lacking (at best). Perhaps GLA and JSL will serve, over time, will spur quality growth in their two respective areas.
* The verdict is in: The exterior of the new Downtown YMCA rates a 9 to 9.5. Excellent work from Allard Ward Architects.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
For those who relish a traditional and old-school manmade environment, there is no Tennessee city that can rival it.
Not even close.
Recently, a long-time friend and I took a day trip to the Bluff City. My buddy — a “city hobbyist” who nonetheless knows a good bit about the fundamentals of a quality urban built fabric — had never truly explored Memphis. After six hours of aggressively driving the city’s parkways and avenues while clinically dissecting vintage structures, 1960s-era office buildings and fabulous streetscapes — and after enthusiastically exploring (both via car and on foot) the Pinch, Cooper-Young, Harbor Town, the south side, Midtown and the Central Business District — my dear friend came away impressed.
So, too, did I — even though this was my fourth visit (in four years) to Memphis, including one stay during which I drove about 100 miles throughout the city’s dense central core.
Given my familiarity with the buildings, streetscapes, planning efforts and mixed-use districts in both Memphis and, of course, Nashville, what follows is one man’s comparison of Tennessee’s dominant cities.
Memphis: More than any other characteristic, “orderliness” dominates Memphis much more so than it does Nashville. Within 30 minutes of our “tour,” my friend noted how consistent and clean the Memphis streetscape is. And how, unlike in Music City, the Memphis core is so much more building dense. He’s dead on.
Within the city’s Interstate 240 loop — an area covering a minimum of 70 square miles (and maybe as many as 80-85 square miles) — nearly every street offers proper sidewalks and curbing. Street signage is consistent. Mailboxes, one of the great culprits of street-side clutter, are typically placed on front porches. Alleys, which eliminate the need for front-yard driveways (another cause of visual clutter, particularly when of the gravel variety), are much more common in Memphis than in Nashville. Housing styles flow smoothly from district to district. Numerous Memphis buildings are sited at the sidewalk, thus minimizing huge surface parking ponds that (here we go again with the visual clutter theme) allow for unsightly auto storage. Memphis, compared to Nashville, has far less “dead space” and fewer swaths of unused or underutilized real estate. In short, Memphis historically has been vastly better planned than Nashville (notorious for its many old neighborhoods and commercial districts with ramshackle vibes). This foresight, courtesy of Memphis leaders since the early 20th century, has resulted in a much more efficient maximization of space, with the Bluff City’s manmade environment acting in a more urban manner related to is surrounding natural environment.
Another noticeable Memphis built environment trait is the city’s impressive collection of pre-1950s-constructed buildings. Downtown, of course, offers many of the best examples. However, various Midtown stretches of high-profile streets, including Madison, Poplar and Union avenues, are framed nicely by such vintage building stock. Even the inner-I-240 rectangle bordered by Summer Avenue on the north, East Parkway on the east, Park Avenue on the south and Perkins Avenue on the west offers a respectable number of charming old commercial/retail buildings.
Next, and related to the second element just mentioned, Memphis contains much more “grit” than Nashville, more historic water towers, smokestacks, factories, storage facilities, industrial sites, old viaducts, etc. This gives the city a certain authenticity and “coolness” that the more “sterile” and generic Nashville simply cannot match.
Lastly, the Memphis built fabric fans from downtown and the Mississippi River. So you cannot encircle the city's downtown for a variety of angled view. However, if you are driving via, say, Poplar Avenue and from I-240, the stretch of urban mass is quite eye-opening.
Nashville: In comparison to Memphis, Nashville showcases significantly more contemporary buildings. Though Nashville’s urban core (the area with decent building density, street grid and orderliness) spans a modest 25 to 30 square miles, it has seen a mini construction explosion of sorts since the late 1990s. This architecture and development frenzy has rendered Nashville somewhat similar to Atlanta and Charlotte, the two Old South cities that best define a “New South architectural design vernacular.” During a mere 10-year span, Music City’s downtown, Midtown, Vanderbilt/West End corridor, Gulch, SoBro, Germantown and Five Points have added no fewer than 100 buildings (many of them sleek and bold). In contrast, there is, at best, a minimal “21st century architectural vibe” within Memphis’ massive inner interstate loop. A smattering of recently constructed buildings is simply too randomly place or blandly designed to command attention.
A very specific characteristic of Nashville’s manmade environment (and somewhat connected to the previously noted trait) is the number of buildings 100 feet or taller. It’s difficult to accurately compare Memphis and Nashville in this category, but based on personal observation and lists found at emporis.com and skyscrapercity.com, Nashville offers at least 33 percent (and maybe 50 percent) as many “tall” buildings than Memphis. The difference is noticeable.
Next, Nashville’s downtown is like a wheel’s center, with the mass of the city dispersing like spokes from that core and the Cumberland River snaking through its gut. To an extent, this minimizes the impact of what little street griddedness the city contains (or could ever have boasted). But it does provide for multiple viewing angles of the Central Business District.
Lastly, because Nashville is extremely hilly, the “built environment vistas” offered to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike — and courtesy of the rolling natural environment — can be quite visually striking. Navigate Nashville, and big buildings and cool urban massings can literally “pop up out of nowhere.” In contrast, Memphis is fairly flat, with modest changes in topography and street bends offering rather predictable viewsheds.
In summary, my good friend and I spent at least an hour of our 3:15 drive back to Nashville comparing and contrasting the manmade fabric of the state’s two most prominent cities. Both have their strengths, and warts. From a planning, layout, topography, architecture and development perspective, Memphis mirrors a mini-St. Louis; Nashville, a mini-Atlanta. No doubt, the two Tennessee cities are very different regarding their physical arrangement and feel.