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.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Assessing The Acropolis

During a tour of the soon-to-open condo building Artesia in West End Park, I strolled a few properties west to view The Acropolis, located at the southwest corner of the Parthenon and Avoca avenues T-intersection and also nearing construction completion.

Frankly, I have some concerns.

But before  I offer criticism, let me note the following. The three members of Acropolis developer JBS Enterprises (Jay Ellis, Brian Glasser and Stephen Nestor, along with co-developer U. Grant Browning) are class gentlemen who are passionate about urban Nashville's manmade form. For this development, they deserve credit for using Nashville-based architect Quirk Designs (Preston Quirk) and for retaining project consultant J. Mark West, who is working to maximize the chances of the residential building's achieving LEED platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. And, as noted in the previous post, the project will feature a beautiful water fountain on the site's northeast corner.

No doubt, The Acropolis will be strong on many counts.

However, and I write this with great respect for the team, The Acropolis exterior disappoints on two fronts:

1. The building features numerous design elements commonly found in pre-World War II-built structures. Though perhaps not a "replica building" in every respect, the overall presentation screams traditional. For example, one of the six residences (more on this in Point No. 2) offers windows with shudders. I shudder (bad play on words intended).

2. The building's six residences have been designed to appear distinctive of one another, giving the overall structure an "architecturally hodge-podge-like vibe" that can be compared to that of The Row at 31st (located nearby). No doubt, it should be clear to even the lay person that The Acropolis is one building attempting to present itself as six. It is not often that this type design works effectively, particularly if the colors, shapes and forms, as is the case with The Acropolis, contrast significantly (for an exception to this rule, check the Hill Center in Green Hills).

Contrast The Acropolis exterior design to that of the aforementioned Artesia. The latter, a three-story structure dominated by handsome dark brick and featuring contemporary metal and stone touches, leaves no doubt of its 21st century design vernacular. Of note, Preston Quirk designed both Artesia and The Acropolis.

The Acropolis has been constructed with quality materials and craftsmanship. Its sustainable building qualities are to be praised. Most folks (particularly if they know little, if anything, about architecture) likely will find the building's exterior to be attractive.  

Still, I am struggling to embrace this building, despite its many plusses.


  1. I really appreciate your layman’s point of view as an architectural reviewer. I find it frustrating sometimes but I also recognize the value of an eye untainted by overeducation. But this article is more than I can take. I have not seen these buildings so I don't know what you are referring to, but I find point number one to be grossly weak and inadequate.

    If I understand your criticism correctly, I have to say that being traditional is not a negative. If your criticism is about a bad execution of a traditional design then you need to say so, and explain why, (sporting shutters doesn’t fit the bill).

    Point number two could stand more elaboration but it sounds like it is moving in the right direction. The type of "built separately" kind of look seems to be difficult because people feel like each piece has to be radically different in order to make the point. But if you look at it from a historical point of view land that is developed in the same time frame usually happens within a consistent era and the differences are subtle. Look at Second Avenue. As always photographs that explain your position would be enormously helpful.

    My last point is that if you have a valid criticism; don't drown it in apology and praise. Your fear of stepping on toes palpable. If a building is brutally bad enough to deserve a remark then the remark needs to be brutally honest. Those of us in this profession have a pretty thick skin, so treating us like oversensitive ninnies is actually kind of insulting. If your comments are valid then they should be presented as such.

    Keep up the good work and keep getting better.

  2. Anonymous,

    I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

    Two quick points:

    1. Shudders: Most of the traditional, brick and stone, multi-unit residential buildings constructed in Nashville since 2000 do not feature shudders. These include (if I'm not mistaken) The New Jacksonian, Fourth & Monroe, The Southgate, The Maxwell and The Row at 31st (which I like overall, despite the hodgepodge of styles). Simply put, shudders are often an unnecessary embellishment. One exception to this rule locally is West End Close, which has some shudders yet is very attractive on many levels. I simply don't like the shudders on The Acropolis as they seem "tacked on" for no good reason and, as such, a bad execution of materials and forms. I failed to make this clear in the post.

    2. I don't feel I drowned my criticism in apology and praise, although I was, admittedly, overly earnest in attempting to not offend. But my praise for both the developer and architect is sincere as I know Mr. Quirk and admire his talents and passion for Nashville. I also have talked to two of the five people whom I identify in the blog post. They are fine folks working hard to give the city a wonderful building. Had I not mentioned any of the team, the criticism could have been interpreted as a bit mean-spirited and disrespectful. Still, you make a valid point I need to consider in future posts.

    Thanks for taking the time to offer your take.

    William Williams