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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pinnacle Cap Creates Visual Pop

With the exterior work almost finished for The Pinnacle at Symphony Place SoBro office tower, a key element is worth noting: the decorative cap illuminated at night. 

Most Nashville highrises offer modest (if that) tops. This design characteristic simply adds to the glaringly bland linear form of the city's skyline. Hypothetically, the AT&T Tower ("sunken" as it is on its site) rising from the lot at the southwestern corner of the Fifth Avenue and Church Street intersection would mitigate this "flatness" (as would, for that matter, Signature Tower). 

With the addition of Pinnacle, the skyline now boasts of a building with a eye-catching crowning element (either day or night), thus helping soften the visual monotony of the aforementioned skyline flatness.   

I have noticed that the Pinnacle crown is lit only on occasion. Check it out if you can. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Demolition Hits Church Street Building

I drove along Church Street yesterday and noticed that an old-school brick building (across from the YMCA and next to the building that houses Venito's) is being demolished. A LifeWay official (LifeWay owns the building, which contained four spaces) confirmed today that the building is being razed due to structural deficiencies.

For now, the replacement will be a surface parking lot. 

How many times has Nashville seen the loss of a charming little pedestrian-scaled building -- only to be replaced by either a synthetic-stucco piece of junk or what may as well be a used car lot? With the rain falling as I type and another historic architectural piece of downtown Nashville soon to be no more, my stomach is upset. 

Details, and a commentary, to follow.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Good-Bye Grit

Nashville recently lost an old-school and gritty structure and seems likely to lose another.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation recently removed the steel, green 1960s-era pedestrian bridge that spanned Interstate 40 (a few hundred yards west of the I-40/Briley Parkway/White Bridge Road exchange). Although the bridge was likely rarely used by walkers, it nevertheless delivered a cool, big-city visual and was the type structure you commonly find in the traditional metropolitan areas in the densely populated North. With the removal, Nashville now has only three similar bridges remaining.

Next on the chopping block? Could be the 1950s-constructed building that was once home to the state's Department of Highways and Public Works. Located at the northwest corner of Charlotte and 22th avenues in Midtown, the building offers a slightly industrial vibe and plays nicely off a rambling old warehouse next door. Many of the building's windows are broken and the beautiful stone continues to gradually deteriorate. To see a quirky and underrated gem like this fall, while generic junk continues to rise throughout the city's core, would be painful.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Random Notes

Following are a few observations:

— 1700Midtown, the under-construction apartment complex sited about midway between Charlotte Avenue and Church Street (and on the eastern fringe of the Medical District), is taking shape. I noticed today a segment of the corrugated metal skin. In fact, when the full complement of metal cladding adorns 1700Midtown, it could rank as one of the city's three most industrial-looking residential buildings.

— A few weeks ago, I finally checked out the exterior design of the diminutive building home to Amun Ra Theatre (located on Clifton Street in North Nashville). The structure represents one of the best examples of a non-descript cinderblock building being given new life. 

— On the "re-inventing cinderblock buildings theme," a mural now adorns the west wall of the little building located on Halcyon in 12South and home to Halcyon Bike Shop. Very eye-catching.  

— The recently retrofitted Holiday Inn Vanderbilt is now sporting new signage on its walls, with the property's surface parking lot now getting a free-standing sign. The dominant signage color is lime. Risky and bold. Not sure, however, if I'll like it as time passes.

— Exterior work on 1914 Charlotte, a one-story medical office building in Midtown, is almost completed. I've got mixed opinions on the design, as the building offers nice brick detailing, an attractive color scheme and solid definition (via its shapes and materials). It also is built to the sidewalk at an intersection, another major plus. Of note, however, Charlotte Avenue is a major street on various levels and needs major buildings (that is, those of at least three stories). Furthermore, the design of the structure's entrance is questionable. Still, and compared to so many buildings constructed in Midtown from the 1960s through the 1990s, 1914 Charlotte is acceptable.