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, January 26, 2009

The Curious Case of Slanting Building Shapes

A soon-t0-open residential building in Germantown (some would say, technically, it's in Salemtown) offers a design element that is rarely seen with Nashville buildings: unconventional geometric shapes. And in this case, the slant.

The three-story four-unit development mentioned above, located on the northeast corner of the Sixth Avenue and Hume Street T-intersection, specifically features slanted roofs for each of its four residences. Nashville-based DA|DA designed the building, a name for which I cannot seem to determine (so we'll call it Sixth & Hume). DA|AD's involvement is noteworthy given the company wove its architectural magic with another slanted-roof-line gem: The West Eastland. Also, the two DA|AD-designed buildings on the northeast corner of Sixth and Hume offer slanted roofs — although the buildings are not nearly as attractive compared to the design firm's other work due to their odd color scheme and suburban-flavored stacked stone elements.

Other design highlights for Sixth & Hume include four segments of stucco with nicely contrasting colors (olive, medium gray, dark tan and beige), a dark and handsome brick, and Hardie siding on the third level.

Look closely and you'll see sleek light fixtures framing doors nicely defined with four horizontal windows each (a subtle yet effective touch).

Sixth & Hume is a solid example of the type urban infill residential construction Nashville desperately needs, as its bold color palette, economical utilization of space, massing and height combine cleanly for a successful presentation. Developer The Baskin Co. deserves credit for this fine addition to the city's north side.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Humdinger of a Building

Metro Center is home to some seriously bad architecture and sprawl. For those who appreciate building density/attractiveness, a drive through this commercial area just north of downtown is no more enjoyable than a serious case of stomach cramps. One exception, however, is a distinctive building segment of the complex housing Crest Hummer of Nashville.

You can't miss the exterior of this contemporary building as it clearly contrasts with the remainder of the Crest Hummer facility (located on Metro Center Boulevard) and wildly plays off all the generic junk in the general area.

Specifically, a half-arched roof caps a sea of glass and metal. No brick. No dryvit. No split-face concrete block. No Hardie siding. Just shiny metal and glass. While no architectural masterpiece, the building succeeds in making a statement among its nondescript neighbors.

Ironically, the most design-edgy structure in the entirety of Metro Center is devoted to accommodating vehicles, necessities of life that have — perhaps more than any other within American society — lulled us into producing ugly building design and dysfunctional place-making.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Touring Signor Terrazzo

What does Nashville get when you combine Hastings Architecture Associates and Manuel Zeitlin Architects? A semi-masterpiece in the form of Terrazzo.

Slated for completion by late March and designed by the aforementioned Nashville-based companies, this 14-story mixed-use building shines both inside and out, as I learned today during a 45-minute tour courtesy of general contractor The Parent Company. While assessing this soon-to-be-completed gem, I found the materials to be top notch and the craftsmanship handled with conscientiousness. A mixture of uses (retail, office and residential), a strong addressing of the 12th Avenue and Division Street intersection and a perfect scale (neither excessively tall nor too diminutive) render the building versatile and inviting.

If there were any doubt that Terrazzo does not boast the best exterior of all other 150-foot-plus-tall post-2000-built Nashville buildings, let the doubt end. Earthy Minnesota limestone contrasts splendidly with green-tined glass to create walls of beauty. The "understated turret-like" northwest corner of the building — about 220 feet tall from sidewalk to roof — represents an exterior highlight. Accompanied by four friends (all "built-environment enthusiasts"), I viewed the first floor (BB&T bank will occupy a portion with space reserved for a restaurant), Floor 2 (office space), the commons floor (pool, fitness room and lounge) and various units (including two of five penthouses). Wow.

Developer Crosland deserves much credit for not skimping on either exterior or interior materials. Likewise for hiring MZA and HAA. Hastings led the design of handsome mid-rises Roundabout Plaza (an A-minus effort) and SunTrust Plaza (B), while Zeitlin's best work might be the cutting-edge building home to the Tennessee Association of Realtors (A-minus). Both firms prefer 21st century applications, and Terrazzo nicely exhibits a contemporary flair that holds true to that preference.

Friday, January 2, 2009

What I've Gleaned by Viewing The Glen

To quote the words from the fuzz-guitar classic Social Distortion song: "I was wrong."

Wrong to predict — as I did to various friends about four months ago — that The Glen would represent the first "average" exterior of a multi-unit DA|AD-designed building. Now finished, I rank the architectural effort a solid 7 to 7.5 and consider the design clearly above average.

Developed by stalwart local entity Core Development and Nashville's most recently finished urban infill project, The Glen is a fine addition to the Hillsboro Village area. However, it is not one of DA|AD's best buildings — at least based on exterior design. For example, the architect's Madison Square, Morgan Park Place and Summer Lofts (all located in Germantown) offer a greater variety of shapes, colors and materials than does The Glen. For that matter, McFerrin Park's West Eastland (its grays and yellows contrasting boldly while its sloped roofs lure the eye skyward) is considerable more visually arresting than The Glen. In fact, I rank The Glen exterior — as a study in 21st century infill architecture — as roughly equal to that of West Eastland.

Specifically, The Glen's facade and back are quite attractive. In contrast, the side that fronts Wedgewood Avenue is a bit bland (in terms of form). Critics will argue The Glen is excessively monochromatic and clean-lined, and they may have a point. On that theme, the doors facing 19th Avenue could have been a slightly "edgier" style so as to render the overall structure somewhat less understated. On a positive note, the building's height and massing are perfect for a T-intersection, especially one in the bustling Hillsboro Village. In addition the color scheme, though unadventurous, is quite masculine.

Overall, The Glen is a fine addition to the city's ever-changing built fabric. Though not DA|AD's best work, it continues the firm's upward trajectory of well-designed urban Nashville structures.