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, April 20, 2009

CapStar, Hastings Nail New Center

The exterior designs of most free-standing Nashville-area bank buildings are bland and unadventurous. Not surprising when you consider bankers tend to be a cautious lot, and not the type to opt for edginess, whether with their personal grooming/wardrobe, hobbies/interests or preferred designs for financial centers.

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 fa├žade 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.

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