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, September 29, 2010

Creating Places: More SoBro Grit Gone

Demolition began today on a non-descript cinderblock building on the west side of Encore and facing Demonbreun Street (across from the Schermerhorn Symphony Center). Though of no design/architectural significance, the little building will be missed when you consider SoBro has already lost so much of its gritty, fine-grained built fabric. Apparently, the replacement for the structure will be surface parking. Wonderful.

I can still visualize so many smallish old-school buildings in SoBro that have been toppled only since 1995. Some were handsome (i.e., the Chilton Building) some offered a cool usage (the structure home to 328 Performance Hall) and others were, well, bland. But all were built prior to 1970 and offered a pedestrian scale and feel. At this rate, "SoBro circa 2030" will offer 10 massive post-2000-built structures and a sea of surrounding surface parking. Such a landscape might look imposing from afar and from a car, but up close and on foot...that will be one ugly SoBro.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Creating Places: HKS

I'm hearing Dallas-based architecture company HKS will be the lead designer for the proposed Omni Hotel tower to accompany the Music City Center convention facility. Of note, however, HKS has a rendering on its website for a "Nashville Peabody Hotel" (and nothing for the Omni). Baffling. Could HKS, which has done a good bit of international work, be designing both the Omni and what could be a Peabody? Perhaps the website info is outdated and there will be no Peabody any time soon. I can't determine. Regardless, HKS creates some very 21st century, eye-catching designs.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Creating Places: Room In The Inn Building

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

Creating Places: Regions Bank

I see the updating of the Hillsboro Village building home to Regions Bank is almost completed. Not sure how to put this to the fine folks at Regions but the building's exterior, despite looking a bit better, is still hideous. And that's because, very simply, the building essentially mimics a massive roof that has swallowed its base and mid-section. And no improved and/or new color scheme, signage, landscaping or doors can change that fact. Perhaps the best comparison to the building and that I can give is this: a toddler sporting a towering top hat. The ideal option — had cost not been a factor or a Regions leader had shown some vision — would have been a new building anchoring the northeast corner of the 21st and Wedgewood avenues intersection. With this hypothetical new bank structure open and helping define the intersection, the existing building could have been demolished and the lot cleared for future quality infill development. Relatedly, the sea of surface parking currently servicing the building could have been greatly reduced. (Note to folks who operate from spaces other than churches, events venues, schools, etc., i.e., the type places at which many motorists arrive and leave at the same times: You don't need nearly as much surface parking as you think.) This is another missed opportunity for Nashville's urban core. The sad thing is not that Regions didn't do something bold. Rather, it's depressing because it's likely nobody running the show at the bank at least thought in these terms.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Creating Places: Virago Midtown

The vintage industrial building that will soon be home to a re-located Virago is looking stellar. Midtown-based architect Barry Brechak Architecture + Design is handling the work and appears set to hit a homerun with the effort. Recently, the brick facade received a nice coat of dark gray paint. Masculine, yet warm, the new color gives the building (located at 12th Avenue South and McGavock Street) a sleek feel. And now an eye-catching cladding is being applied. Of note, the South American rot-resistant material is called "tiger wood" and is used for, among others, outdoor decking. Slated next is the installation of a corner sign that will have "Virago" on both the building's west and south faces. Barry Brechak is one of many local architects 40 and younger who studied design at the top-notch architecture program at the University of Tennessee. He's a good man doing quality work — as his firm's retrofit of the once-hideous and now quite attractive exterior of the nearby structure home to Whiskey Kitchen attests.