Good to see the Germantown development 4th & Monroe will have a second shot at success, as it has been bought out of foreclosure. Reportedly, the buyer will lease the residential spaces — a smart move in this economic environment.
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, December 29, 2010
Good to see the Germantown development 4th & Monroe will have a second shot at success, as it has been bought out of foreclosure. Reportedly, the buyer will lease the residential spaces — a smart move in this economic environment.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
For years, comprehensive mass transit in Nashville has been no more impressive than NPR’s handling the firing of Juan Williams (no relation).
But on the heels of concluding a major study regarding intelligent transportation systems (ITS), the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is now crafting a plan that could aid Midstate public works departments and transit agencies with low-cost solutions to addressing infrastructure concerns.
Though not fully funded, the ITS Deployment Plan could yield transit improvements related to usage efficiency.
The MPO study, conducted by the Nashville office of Texas-based Kimley-Horn & Associates, touches on the nationally newish open transit data concept. With an open data approach, a transit agency makes its information available to software programming companies, which then create applications citizens can access via their hand-held devices. Lots of transit agencies are a bit skittish about “going open.”
Of note and with the ITS plan possibly providing some guidance for a future broader strategy, the Metro Transit Authority is preparing to implement a real-time data plan. The MTA program will see electronic signage offer bus status updates, specifically at stops along the authority’s bus rapid transit line (Gallatin Road/Main Street) and at the Music City Central downtown hub. Signs already are installed at the BRT stops and will soon be installed at MCC.
That real-time data effort was to have been in place by now but was delayed when MTA servers and equipment suffered flood damage, according to James McAteer, the authority’s director of planning.
“Real-time data is the path were going down,” McAteer told me via phone and for an article I wrote for The City Paper. McAteer added that MTA is exploring mechanisms to make the authority’s data “open” to programming companies.
McAteer said MTA is planning to offer its bus route schedules in real time and to riders’ hand-held devices. This can be done, he said, prior to making the agency’s data open to programmers. Both McAteer and MTA spokeswoman Patricia Harris-Morehead told me the agency is neither philosophically nor fiscally opposed to a fully open data approach. However, there are legal and contractual issues with MTA vendors that must be addressed.
Transit Now Nashville, the city’s feisty non-profit advocacy group, wants MTA eventually to provide the more comprehensive open-data system and hopes the MPO-commissioned study can be of help.
With an open-data system — and assuming programmers develop applications with it — bus riders, for example, can use their hand-held mobile devices to monitor route efficiency and ridership. In simple terms, if a bus is running late, a rider could find out — and then take time to, say, quickly grab a cup of coffee at the nearest café.
“With open data, software developers can use the data to create new applications,” Travis Todd, Transit Now president, told me via phone while he was stressed during a regular work day and I was still in sleepwear, enjoying a cup of coffee and trying to convince myself that this freelance writing gig is legitimate work. “If the data stays closed, the public’s only source for that information is the agency that controls it.”
Todd said that an open data system could help spur private investment as an ancillary component of public transportation.
“Like weather information, we want to have transit information easily available, real-time and free,” he said. “The best way to get there fast is to open the data and give private companies a chance to create tools to complement existing transit systems.”
Todd said Transit Now has surveyed numerous citizens who have never ridden transit in Nashville and determined that a real-time app for bus services “would persuade them to ride for the first time.” I have some doubts about that as folks tend to exaggerate their seriousness about hopping on a public bus. But I want to be hopeful and if we combine hand-held devices and buses, well it might just work.
Not surprisingly, Nashville is not alone in failing to embrace open transit data.
Of note and according to City-Go-Round, of the nation’s 824 major transit systems, 122 offer an open-data system and 702 do not.
“Transit data sharing is a relatively new concept and [Metro Government] officials may see it as a cost, especially if their system was built for internal use only,” Todd said. “In addition, we know that MTA was greatly affected by the flood. They lost buses and equipment, and they are in the process of moving their offices again. Yet, they have made many accomplishments this year. We are optimistic that, in time, they will open the data.”
The Rockefeller Foundation-funded City-Go-Round website retrieves — via the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) Data Exchange — a list of those agencies that provide public data in GTFS format. City-Go-Round matches these agencies against its master list of transit agencies that was compiled from the National Transportation Database. This enables the City-Go-Round site to show users those agencies that do and do not provide open data.
Josh Herst, CEO of Seattle-based Walk Score (for which City-Go-Round is an initiative), said open data can help make transit usage more convenient.
“More people will find transit valuable and land values will increase near areas that are well served by transit,” Herst said in yet another phone interview.
A fine example of open data benefits, Herst said, is location-based mobile network Foursquare, which allows riders in the San Francisco Bay Area to monitor if their friends are using transit.
If MTA eventually opts for a full open data approach, the MPO study may have served the broad purpose for which it was conducted.
Michael Skipper, MPO executive director, said the next step with the ITS Deployment Plan, is finding funding for the study’s recommendations.
“As we move forward in an environment with limited financial resources, we’ll be looking to invest in low-cost solutions that help modernize our infrastructure,” Skipper said (no need to add “in a phone interview”) “ITS solutions span a broad range of projects ranging from providing real-time transit arrival and departure information via cell phone to improving the synchronization of traffic signals to keep roadways moving efficiently."
Related to mass transit in Nashville specifically, an intelligent transportation system program could use computer-aided dispatching tools to, say, help bus drivers monitor the location of accidents and automated passenger counting systems.
Mary Beth Ikard, MPO’s hard-working spokeswoman, said a major reason for the organization’s commissioning the ITS architecture study was “to improve emergency management coordination across jurisdictional boundaries to speed incident response.”
“Not all the jurisdictions in our planning area need to agree to use identical technology that speaks to each other, but it’s important to have everyone sitting at the table and aware of what their neighbor has and is using (under the umbrella of the ITS architecture),” Ikard said. “You can see how this would be especially important during something like the May flooding.”
Ikard said the ITS Deployment Plan is not “fiscally constrained.”
“So even though many of projects identified for the plan don't have any funding associated with them," she said, "they do represent important priorities for the region."
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Viewing the Omni Hotel rendering for the first time today (and, of course, realizing this is a rendering only) I nonetheless asked myself, "Where is the distinctiveness? Where is the edge? An 800-room hotel that will anchor a nationally significant convention center and we get, seemingly, a basic box? And a box that's not even 300 feet tall?"
Monday, October 4, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Glen Oxford is president of 12South-based Oxford Architecture. Following is a Q&A regarding the Campus for Human Development Building (a.k.a., the Room In The Inn Building), the attractive SoBro building that OA designed and that recently opened.
Your thoughts on the Room In The Inn Building’s color scheme, materials and size? The new building is 46,000 square feet with the existing building that is just started being renovated at 20,000 square feet. The goal of selecting the materials on the project was the desire to use materials that were manufactured within close proximity of the Nashville. Materials must be durable, warm and reusable.
What was OA’s approach to designing the building? The original site for the building was actually located on Drexel Street where the current parking lot and rain gardens are located. When we started designing this facility in 2006, this was the site that had been purchased by the Campus. During the programming and design stages, it was determined that relocating the building to the current site would provide a much better design based on control, security and function due to the fact that the Campus was going to continue to occupy the existing building.
Any interesting features? Dealing with the homeless and intoxicated population provides its own design challenges. We wanted to be able to design a warm and comfortable atmosphere such as a home environment but at the same time provide a durable and lasting structure. Being located in the Arts District, and in a prime site facing the [under-construction] Music City Center and downtown, we want the building to address not only the users of the facility but also the city itself.
We have included 38 apartments that serve as a stepping-stone to future homes the residents seek. These residents along with the staff have access to the rooftop garden that overlooks the courtyard and downtown. The view from the common areas and the Board Room on the north side of the building will rival any housing units in the downtown area at a comparable height. The residents will be able to watch the Music City Center come to life and watch Nashville grow.
The Campus has expanded the square footage of the educational areas with an art room any school would envy, a computer lab, home economics rooms and classrooms that are flexible for a wide arrange of class sizes.
Any “green” elements? This building follows the green principals from the rain garden, green roof, materials, day lighting and the mechanical and electrical systems. It was decided during the budgeting process of the project not to seek USGBC (United States Green Building Council) certification due to the cost involved in commissioning the building. This $150,000 plus cost was better served in buying furniture and supplies.
Of note, the building does not address a street in the conventional sense. It’s almost wedged into a mass of built fabric, creating an interesting building density within the specific district in which the building sits. Thoughts? Although the building does not address Eighth Avenue North, it does in fact address Drexel, which is the building’s address and more importantly, the building addresses the City of Nashville in which it is serving.
Any other thoughts? Much thanks needs to be given to Father Charles Strobel and Rachel Hester, whose vision for the homeless community was our inspiration in the design of this facility.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
This should be a strong mixed-use product that will add building density and a diversity of commercial use for Midtown. No doubt, if Midtown is not destined to land West End Summit any time soon, this is the next best development for the district.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
A recent street name change in downtown Nashville has caught my attention — and represents a noteworthy example of how Metro Government occasionally complicates citizen efforts to make this city as urban as possible.
In a move that I will soon explain as less than ideal, city officials have moniker-modified McLemore Avenue with the appellation “YMCA Way.”
At first thought, the name change makes sense. YMCA officials made a commendable commitment to downtown by pumping millions into what is the non-profit’s anchor facility of the Midstate. The building is both attractive and functional, and the Metro Council likely wanted to show some appreciation for a venerable Central Business District institution.
The name even has a nice ring to it, rhyming the “A” and “Way.”
Well intentioned though the move may be, it is nonetheless questionable. Here’s why.
First, the street type designation “way” — although in a general sense appropriate for geographically modest segments of asphalt such as this — is almost overwhelmingly used nationwide for roads in suburban residential areas. It suggests a calm lane in a pastoral setting, free of both urban grit and a mixture of building types and uses. “Way” is what developers of generic subdivisions name a street to appeal to home-buyers who hear the word “street” and conjure images of crime, building density and, gasp, pedestrians.
In short, there is a reason vibrant cities populated by true urbanites don’t feature central business district streets with “way” in their names.
Second, cities must be deliberate, even strict, when considering central business district street name changes involving specific recognized entities. Obviously, “Capitol Boulevard,” which runs from Commerce to Church and visually connects the State Capitol and Main Library, makes sense for Nashville.
But is the YMCA — though a wonderful operation — truly an iconic landmark deserving of a street named in its honor? With Tennessee State University’s Avon Williams Campus fronting a portion of YMCA Way, why not “TSU Street,” as TSU offers arguably a greater variety of local history (involving education, civil rights, research and sports) than does the fitness-focused Y.
But lets hypothetically say that both the Y and TSU deserve to have streets named for them. If so, why not change the segment of Fifth Avenue between Commerce Street and Broadway to “Ryman Auditorium Street”? Or the stretch of Church Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues to “Downtown Presbyterian Church Avenue”?
At what point do we draw the line? At “Tootsie’s Boulevard”?
The point is simple: Street names must meld multiple functions, including conveying geographic accuracy and ease of understanding; paying homage to the most significant historical figures and special places; and/or “making sense” within their context, whether urban, suburban or rural. To treat the topic without full consideration, as seems to have been the case here, is unacceptable.
Third — and related to the second point — north-south downtown Nashville streets, ideally, would all be numbered streets so as to minimize logistical confusion. This is particularly important for tourists, business travelers and those locals who rarely venture downtown. When in the heart of our downtown, these folks need to feel as comfortably oriented as possible. For this reason, I am opposed to the Central Business District segment of Rosa L. Parks Boulevard being called such. Using the RLP designation for the street’s stretches north of Charlotte and south of Broadway would have been one thing. But “Rosa L. Parks” in the CBD simply creates logistical confusion.
Last, the YMCA recently opted to use, simply, “the Y”for branding and marketing purposes, thus rendering “YMCA Way” almost awkwardly and instantly outdated.
So what would be better?
Ninth and Tenth avenues sandwich the street, so what about a “numbers clever” designation? Perhaps “9/10ths Avenue”?
If the city is so compelled to recognize the YMCA, how about “Y Street”? It sounds kind of cool, and “street” better suggests urban asphalt than “way.”
For a less edgy and more inclusive option, how about “Education Avenue” to recognize how both the Y and TSU admirably stress the importance of keeping a fit body and mind, respectively?
In short, “YMCA Way” was a poor choice of names, the fumble made all the more glaring considering what a stellar design and function of the retrofitted Y building itself.
Of course — and disturbing to consider — the street name change could have been worse. We were lucky Metro avoided the hyper-suburban “YMCA Trail” or “YMCA Cove.”
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The architecture, planning and design communities are well established within the South’s four first-tier U.S. cities — Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Miami.
But at closer look, the region’s so-called mid-major cities also are home to thriving architectural communities, many of them defined by a combination of well-established companies handling large-scale work and scrappy boutique firms that deliver eye-catching, functional and “green” creations. Often overlooked nationally, but respected regionally, these companies may not be as high profile, for example, as Thompson Ventulet Stainback & Associates Inc. (Atlanta), Arquitectonica (Miami), FKP Architects (Houston) or Corgan Associates (Dallas). But don’t dismiss their work.
On this theme, consider the following quintet as perhaps the South’s top five most significant second-tier markets (listed alphabetically) for design firms delivering cutting-edge and sustainable work.
Austin: The architectural companies in the Texas capitol might produce more dramatic work than, collectively, all the other firms in the South’s non-first-tier cities. No doubt, Austin’s design community is vibrant. Even the high-profile Nelsen Partners, STG Design and Graeber Simmons & Cowan Inc. — successful companies that could safely opt for a more conventional approach and, as such, more predictable work — push the design envelope.
Sally Ann Fly, executive director of The American Institute of Architects’ Austin chapter, said Austin’s design community is a rising power.
“Based on the number of magazines that have identified Austin as a ‘hot spot’ on the design map, and the strong contemporary architecture design, I’d have to assume that it is positive,” she said of national public perception. “Austin continues to be [architecturally] strong in areas of healthcare and public sector work.”
Maurizio Maso, principal with Orlando-based HuntonBrady Architects, agreed, noting, “Austin is doing some great design work.”
Louisville: Bravura designed the striking Louisville Ballet Studios & Offices, the inviting Waterfront Park Place and the edgy Iron Quarter. JRA Architects delivered the Dr. Tom Haas Medical Office Building; boutique firm De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop shined with the industrial-looking United Mail Corporate Headquarters; and Potter & Associates Architects crafted the almost radical Preston Pointe. Since 2006, AIA Kentucky has recognized each project listed above with some type honor.
“The city the past 10 to 15 years, [Louisville] has made some significant investments, and you’re seeing some top design work being done because of that,” said Manuel Zeitlin, founder of Nashville-based Manuel Zeitlin Architects (MZA).
Jim Walters, Bravura president, said the historic city’s heritage of 19th century buildings has spurred a focus on adaptive re-use projects. Still, he added, some local firms are deploying cutting-edge approaches.
“Louisville is a conservative city in a lot of ways but there is tolerance for new ideas,” Walters said.
Nashville: Music City offers more than Tennessee twang, as boutique stalwarts Allard-Ward, Bonidies, DA|AD, EOA, Hastings, Gilbert|McLaughlin|Casella, Polifilo, Tuck-Hinton, Woodson-Gilchrist and the aforementioned MZA consistently yield 21st century gems.
The city’s larger firms, in particular, have suffered some downsizings during the recent economic slump, but Carol Pedigo, executive director of AIA Middle Tennessee, remains optimistic the momentum built the past 10 years or so will continue.
“In an economic downturn, you retool and re-evaluate,” Pedigo said.
Nashville is somewhat unusual for a second-tier U.S. city in that it is the national headquarters to two “Top 200” (based on revenues) design firms: Gresham, Smith & Partners and Earl Swensson Associates. The city also has the Nashville Civic Design Center, which contributes significant ideas regarding the local built fabric.
A strong example of the type cutting-edge work being produced by Nashville’s design sector is Terrazzo, a mid-rise mixed-use building on which MZA and Hastings collaborated.
Orlando: The heavy hitters in the Magic City deliver strong work. HuntonBrady Architects has crafted numerous gems, with its Community Presbyterian Church in Celebration (done in association with Moore Anderson Architects in Austin) ranking as one of the nation’s most attractive houses of worship designed during the past 10 years or so. Baker Barrios Architects has redefined the Orlando skyline with striking towers, but the firm’s diminutive Eola South, a handsome four-story residential building in the city’s Thornton Park, is an overlooked mini-masterpiece. C.T. Hsu + Associates (the associate architect in charge of exterior design for the Orlando Events Center) is internationally recognized.
Orlando firms are gaining a reputation for their work on buildings in the healthcare and higher education sectors, according to HuntonBrady principal Maurizio Maso.
Maso said Orlando is “transitioning into more of a modern design city, which we haven’t been in the past.”
“We have a really diverse group of firms,” he said. “Even though we compete, we all are on positive terms.”
Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill: Of note, most firms in the Triangle have principals with strong ties (either as graduates or professors) to the North Caroline State University College of Design. On this theme, the 2009 national AIA president was Marvin Malecha, dean at the college. The NCSU College of Design has a roughly 60-year tradition of being founded on modernist principles that are still in place.
David A. Crawford, executive director for AIA North Carolina, said that during the past 12-15 years, the balance of design accolades has shifted from the Charlotte region to the Triangle.
“It’s probably not a coincidence that that’s about the same time period that Charlotte has become a huge center for banking and big business in the country and regionally,” Crawford said. “More medium-size companies have begun locating in the Triangle area, giving the architects in this region a clientele that may have a little more design freedom than the large corporate culture that exists in Charlotte.”
That design freedom has yielded jewels from various firms, including Frank Harmon Architect (generally considered North Carolina’s top design firm for capturing awards), Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee (known for its government buildings work) and The Freelon Group. The latter has earned national attention with its high-profile African-American museum projects nationwide, including the April 2009 announcement of its collaboration (with Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup) on the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture. Firm principal Phil Freelon was AIA’s 2009 Jefferson Award recipient.
Interestingly, in the 2006 AIA South Atlantic Design Awards, Triangle firms captured nine awards to Atlanta companies’ five.