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, June 26, 2011

Creating Places: Bad West End Design Part 6

From the windowless stucco box that accommodates Electronic Express, we move next to the Stoney River Legendary Steaks structure. First, any business that uses "legendary" in its name and does not do so with tongue in cheek... This building suggests some sort of Rocky Mountain lodge — and that's problem. This is Nashville and not Denver. Buildings designed to represent something they clearly are not, very simply, are "fake" buildings. Indeed, the materials and craftsmanship for the Stoney River structure may be of top quality. But the building simply assumes an almost theme park-like presence given its odd geographical theme. The fact that I am an elitist vegetarian motivates me even more so than otherwise to avoid patronizing a business whose top brass think that such architecture is appropriate.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Creating Places: Bad West End Design Part 5

From the 1980s-era brick structure next to FYE that houses, among others, Schlotzsky's Deli, we move next to what may as well be a high-quality cardboard box masquerading as a building that is home to Electronic Express. Typically, I can find at least one positive element — both out of respect for the architect and simply because it's evident — of a building. Not so with this pitiful piece of junk. In fact, you could relocate this building to the most hideous run-down suburban commercial area in America and it would be the ugliest among the ugly. That such garbage is located within close proximity to the grand Parthenon and the lush Centennial Park borders on blasphemy.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Creating Places: Bad West End Design Part 4

From the crumbling strip center located within the 2300 block of West End Avenue and anchored by Office Depot, we move to the 1980s-era brick building next to FYE that houses, among other, Schlotzsky's Deli. A key unattractive element of this building is its windows — both the shapes and tints. There is also a second level of retail space that both looks and functions in a somewhat odd manner. I do like the brick color and the fact that a portion of the building straddles the sidewalk. Still, this building represents a strong example of the type suburban-influenced design given to multiple buildings within Nashville's old urban core spanning the 1960s to the 1990s. A surface parking lot severs the building from the street, signage is excessively large and inconsistent in style, and there likely was no consideration given to including a residential component.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Creating Places: Bad West End Design Part 3

From the Courtyard by Marriott building and geographically moving west, we next visit the handsome strip center located within the 2300 block of West End Avenue and anchored by Office Depot. (Do recall the theme of this exercise is to skip all freestanding buildings home to fast-food joints; otherwise, I would have to spend too much time in this post lambasting the buildings home to, among others, Checkers, Jack In The Box, Taco Bell and Qdoba).

For the strip center, notwithstanding the below-level parking (which effectively minimizes some surface parking needs) and the eye-catching exterior for Pinkberry, this structure could have been the creation of a group of preschoolers. Absolutely hideous. The scary thing is that — if I recall correctly — this flimsy excuse for a building is an improvement compared to the previous collection of structures the site once accommodated (I clearly remember a Burger King building). I don't anticipate the strip center (which dates to the early 1990s, I think) to stand five more years. The exterior alone suggests a elderly person in poor health. Plus, the general area is in line for some upscale development, perhaps providing incentive for the owner to redevelop or sell for redevelopment.

With the strip center's looming death, a replacement would nicely complement the adjacent, and attractive, building home to Pinnacle. We must hope.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Creating Places: Bad West End Design Part 2

From the Wells Fargo building, we move west along West End Avenue and, next, to the Courtyard by Marriott. The overall color scheme is horrid, with a brownish-orange stucco skin and a cheesy green metal roof (commonly found topping structures that offer a simple and safe design). The building's window forms seem designed as an afterthought. In fact, the Marriott building makes the somewhat similarly designed Hampton Inn only a block away appear to be a strong member of West End Avenue — if anything because the Hampton's metal roof is charcoal (which always works better than the goofy green, red and blue metal roofs you see dotting countless generic suburban buildings). What's really sad is that the nearby Hutton Hotel, which clearly will not win any design awards, is vastly more attractive than either the Hampton or Marriott.

As I prep to write Part III, do remember that I am not including any buildings home to fast food fry pits. The pathetic little rats' nest from which cholesterol-laden Pizza Hut pie is picked up and delivered (and located across from the Marriott) would simply be too easy a target. I would almost feel as if I were picking on a 10-year-old were I to be critical of it or any of the other crap buildings from which fast food is sold.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Creating Places: Bad West End architecture

During a recent drive along West End Avenue — and after mentioning the nastiness of the building home to Electronic Express in an earlier post — I took notes regarding buildings that mar what is Nashville's most high-profile street. My apologies to any motorists or pedestrians I may have endangered while doing so. The stretch of West End upon which I focused spans 16th Avenue on the east to I-440 on the west.

We'll start at West End's east edge and focus on one per blog entry.

Here we go:

The building home to Wells Fargo and near the West End/Broadway split. This structure is oriented with its south wall (sans windows, no less) blankly staring at the street. The building's signage is both out of proportion and ugly (the frankfurter red and mustard yellow combine to suggest somebody upchucked a hotdog). Some fairly attractive landscaping helps soften the hideous vibe, but the building offers a suburban feel and uninspired design. Too often, bankers opt for conservative designs for their buildings. The Wells Fargo West End is a classic example.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Creating Places: Omni Groundbreaking

It's official. A groundbreaking ceremony for SoBro's long-awaited Omni Hotel is slated for Thursday, June 16, at 10 a.m.

The site of the event — which is dubbed The Key to Music City — is the site on which the approximately 285-foot-tall building will rise.

I rarely attend such cliched festivities but might check this one just to see if some Omni bigwig notes, as happened when the company first announced it was coming to Nashville, that Omni Inc. "really is the best company in this industry" (or something along those predictable lines).

My cynicism aside, I am looking forward to seeing this project start and hope that renderings of the future hotel — images that suggest a very understated and uninspired exterior design — prove inaccurate and that Nashville receives, instead, an unexpectedly attractive tower.