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, February 2, 2009

A New Grocery Model — in Belle Meade, No Less

The new Belle Meade Town Center will soon unveil the building to be home to Harris Teeter. Normally, this would mean nothing on a design level, as Nashville's big-box grocery buildings are, collectively, no more interesting (in terms of design, function, or both) than most network TV shows.

But this ain't your typical grocery structure, as Teeter will peddle its foodstuffs from the city's first big-box building (regardless of tenant type) with a main entrance that does not face, nor is accessed via, a massive surface parking lot. In fact, HTeet shoppers will park below an adjacent building (The Marquee at Belle Meade) and, if they choose, enter the Teeter interior without exposure to the elements. This underground parking design concept borders on radical by suburban Nashville's built environment standards.

The Teeter building is part of a larger redevelopment of the old Belle Meade Theatre building and its attached retail strip. Also part of the new BMTownCenter is the aforementioned three-story The Marquee at Belle Meade (which includes 54 upscale apartments and a Regions financial center). Next door is the five-story Belle Meade Court condo building, also soon to open.

The entirety of BMTCenter/BMeadeCourt is highly unusual on many levels. In addition to the lack of the ubiquitous asphalt surface parking lot, the complex features a Regions ATM that is "wedged" between a towering retaining wall and the east side of The Marquee. Thus, this is one of Nashville's only ATM buildings that is the center of a "canyon-like" built form. Very cool.

The back of The Marquee offers white and gray metal siding, giving the building a highly industrial look. Its south and west sides show nice brick detailing and color. Also, the building is very angular. In contrast, the Teeter building — with its white, blue and gray color pallette and prominent glass components — offers some rounded edges, thus playing effectively off the original BMTheatre complex's curvilinear forms.

Belle Meade Court is juxtaposed with the contemporarily designed new buildings with a fairly bland presentation of traditional materials and shapes . Despite its staid and unadventurous exterior, BMCourt provides nice height and massing and likely was designed with the nearby building home to Street Dixon Rick Architects in mind.

The two residential buildings will help fuel the Harris Teeter with a built-in customer base. As I walked the development yesterday, I envisioned residents of the The Marquee and BMCourt strolling to the bank, the grocery and the shops along the northern front of the venerable theatre building. Very nice. I also noticed how thickly packed the buildings are. There will not be much blistering sun to light the bulk of the space, a refreshing change considering Nashville's manmade environment is extremely "open-spaced."

Giarratana Development and Newport Development teamed to create BMCourt, while Giarratana and PGM Properties partnered for Belle Meade Town Center. Having worked on both projects and a local entity with a growing understanding of urban issues, Giarratana showed nice vision with a dense built fabric in an area in need of such.

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