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, December 30, 2012

Creating Places: 2012 Highlights, Part I

As I wind down the weekend — and decompress from the energy expenditure I experienced while watching Django Unchained earlier today — I'll offer a few 2012 highlights  (listed in no particular order) regarding Nashville's manmade environment.

*  Various additions and updates were finalized on multiple Midtown buildings located on Broadway and Division Street between 17th and 20th avenues. The most significant project, obviously, was the Home 2Suites. But other buildings saw paint jobs (Hampton Inn, Aloft Hotel and Courtyard by Marriott), a video screen (the First Bank Building), a razing (the Church's Chicken building), an addition (Red Door Midtown) and facelifts (the buildings home to Soulshine Pizza, Hattie B's and Gigi's Cupcakes). This geographically small yet very important area likely saw more activity than any other single node within a Nashville urban district.

* Ellison 23 took full shape. The more I take note of this building, the more excited I get about seeing it finished. The brick color and detailing, the proportionality, how it plays off The Mayfair, etc., are all stellar. This is a potentially outstanding new addition. Likewise, I'm almost as pumped about Hillsboro Row, the three-story residential building currently being constructed at Wedgewood and 17th avenues.

* Ground was broken on no fewer than 15 projects. One in particular, Vanderbilt University's Kissam College Halls, has literally blasted out of the ground since June, in the process redefining the 21st and West End avenues intersection.

* The roundabout at Eighth, Lafayette and KVB  and the 28th/31st Avenue Connector opened.

* HCA divisions Parallon and SCRI announced they are taking space in West End Summit.

More to follow ...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Creating Places: Good-bye Mr. Keathley

Nashville-based Street Dixon Rick Architecture did a fine job  designing the recently opened Middle Tennessee State University Student Center (see photos below). As an MTSU graduate (Class of 1985), I fondly remember the old Keathley University Center with its old-school lockers, underground bookstore and always-bustling cafeteria. Amazingly, a buddy (also a Class of 1985 grad) returned to the KUC a few years ago and was able to remember his locker number and lock combination. I write this blog post in his honor — and with relief he wasn't approached by an MTSU security guard for violating the privacy of the student whose locker he accessed.


Creating Places: A building changes on West End

After a nice day of ho, ho, ho, I was driving home this afternoon when the nondescript West End Avenue building seen in the center of the photograph (courtesy of Google Maps) below caught my attention. (For reference, Outback serves meat lovers from the building on the left and Maggiano's dishes out pasta in the structure on the right.)

I couldn't clearly determine exactly what had been done, but it seemed some of the white portion of the building has been painted blue. Clearly, if this is a new color scheme slated, the structure will rank, once fully bathed in its new hue, among the most unusual of all the city's structures designed with a modernist aesthetic.

I'll share more once I get the details.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Creating Places: MZA designs Village building

Creating Places: It takes an MZA village

In an interesting twist, Manuel Zeitlin Architects has designed the Hillsboro Village building that will replace the vintage masonry structure from which the company has long operated and must soon move. Seen below, the building will likely represent that most contemporary structure H.G. Hill Realty has developed to date (including 12South Flats).

Let's look at the positives and negatives of the exterior design.


* The building (for which a name has yet to be announced) offers an interesting array of shapes,  combining both horizontal and vertical forms. I suppose a critic might argue the building is excessively "busy" due to this feature. But I like it.

* As many of you know, I favor the neutral colors. The rendering suggests various shades of gray. Again, critics will call that "drab." But I see "industrial" and "permanent."

* I don't know what materials will be used, but I do know MZA typically shuns stucco. So that's good. I would suppose the structure will be clad in metal and tile. It could even have some Hardie siding.

* I like how the building's right section elevates to three levels as it steps back.

* The corner restaurant piece is well defined and could even offer garage doors (it's difficult to determine).


* I'm a major fan of well-designed contemporary structures, and this building surely will be an example given MZA's track record (the firm's Terrazzo and the Tennessee Association of Realtors Building are stellar).

However, Hillsboro Village is appealing, in large part, because of brick and stone buildings — the Belmont United Methodist Church and all the structures on the west side of 21st (notwithstanding the horrendously bland credit union building) being the highlights. Even the little homes with eateries and on Belcourt Avenue lend a certain understated charm.

This building, in contrast, will be anything but charming. It should be very sleek, energy efficient and eye-catching, but my concern is that it might wildly contrast with most of the other buildings in the Village, particularly those on 21st. True, there are some other contemporary structures in the district (for example, the building home to Sunset Grill) that work well. And the MZÅ/Hill building will be sited across the street from a gas station (which, by its nature, offers a somewhat industrial vibe).

Maybe the Village could use a more 21st century feel and, as such, this structure will fit nicely. For now, I'll remain hopeful.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Creating Places: A look at the Fairfield Inn

As I enjoy a tasty Blackstone Oatmeal Stout on a cool Saturday night, I'll write a quick assessment of the exterior design of the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott planned for Division Street in the Gulch.

First, I'm hearing criticisms ranging from "drab" to "generic" to "lacking color" to "blockish." And while I can understand how folks might feel this way, I have a very different take.

I actually find this to be a fairly attractive building. The color scheme of white, silver and medium gray gives the building a sleek and slightly industrial look, which is well suited for the Gulch. Even the blue signage is a tasteful hue. Were there some black, I would be very pleased. In short, I like buildings with "cool" colors, as those shades lend a structure a certain permanence. Interestingly, the Fairfield ever so slightly mimics the Hutton Hotel (I suppose, in part, because of the color scheme).

As to the aforementioned signage (three areas sport signs), it is nicely proportionate in relation to the overall mass of the building.

Here's a nice touch for a basic hotel (and not necessarily commonly done effectively): the building has a well defined base, mid-section and cap. Very nicely executed.

Lastly, the back right side and the front portion in the darker gray extend from the main walls to provide some variation in shape (and lessen the harshness of what otherwise would have been a flat-faced facade and side).

On a somewhat negative note — and props to my good friend Brett Withers, who pointed this out on Urban Planet Nashville — the entrance is not as visible as would be ideal.

Overall, a solid offering. I grade a C-plus to a B-minus.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Creating Places: Random tidbits

With the night winding down and The Who playing "Who Are You" on the 12-12-12 concert to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy, here are a few quick hits:

* Chattanooga-based Vision Hospitality is hoping to provide on Thursday a rendering of its planned Fairfield Inn on Division Street in the Gulch. I'll post and provide some commentary.

* The under-construction Hyatt hotel in SoBro is now pushing 75 feet tall and assuming some nice definition.

* I have very high hopes for Hillsboro Row, the three-story apartment building Evergreen is developing  at Wedgewood and 17th. I like the height and shape, and I'm optimistic the materials and colors will also be attractive.

* I'm hearing XMi is planning (or at least helping coordinate) a development at the northwest corner of the West End and 19th avenues intersection in Midtown. Already, the hideous building last home to a Church's Chicken and, before that, a Mrs Winner's has been demolished. I don't get the impression this will be a large-scale project, but you could put a construction trailer on the site and let it sit for five years and that would be better than a nasty eyesore housing a fast food chicken joint.

* Nearby, the Division Street building home to the soon-to-open Soulshine Pizza joint is looking nice. A quality rehab job.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Creating Places: A cool aerial photo of Bowling Green

I have made no secret of my admiration for the work done by the fine folks at Aerial Innovations of Tennessee. Based in East Nashville, this boutique company always delivers. On that note, check out this stellar shot of underrated Kentucky small city Bowling Green. For a better view, simply click on the image.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Creating Places: Nashville City Center parking project

A few days ago, I wrote about the new-look wall on the north face of the Sixth Avenue North building that overlooks the under-construction parking project Parmenter Realty Partners is undertaking at Nashville City Center. Read here for more on the project and, below, see the image. I like the placement of the garage entrance, as it is as physically removed from the NCC pedestrian plaza as possible. Also, note the two islands for trees. That alone will render the surface lot vastly better than its previous iteration. And the little structures for accessing the lot (and exiting it) will — along with the trees on the sidewalk — provide the lot with some definition.

The aforementioned wall, which now is actually attractive enough, will allow the surface lot, once finished, to at least look less harsh than it otherwise would.

Trees, small buildings, a freshly updated building wall ... combined, these seemingly little changes will make a nice improvement to this stretch of Sixth Avenue.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Creating Places: The Wall

The Sixth Avenue North limestone-clad building known for its Christian Science Reading Room space at ground level recently saw its blank north wall given a tasteful improvement. Previously, the wall revealed discolored bricks, rusted metal elements and unsightly cinderblock. Now the wall presents a freshly painted and streamlined appearance. True, this is not a major addition to downtown. But sometimes (as I've often noted) a minor improvement to the city's built environment, particularly when combined with numerous other under-the-radar changes, can deliver a positive impact. By the way, the building, designed in the art deco style, is one of the central business district's more underrated structures.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Creating Places: Four years and 257 posts

On Nov. 28, 2008, Creating Places was jump-started as a blog site. (Check the first post here.) During that four years, I've written 257 posts — a modest number when you consider 204 weeks have since passed. As this blog site enters its fifth year of existence, I admit I need to be more productive. On a positive note, this post represents my 83rd of 2012. So compared to 2010, during which I submitted a pathetic 44 posts, I have made some progress. Still, I can do better. Ideally, I will record 150 posts in 2013. That's three per week, not an unreasonable number, even for a man who is known to be lethargic at night (when he typically posts). All this said, I appreciate those of you who read this blog site. Some of you have offered constructive criticism, noting I need to use more images (I agree and I have) and write more often. No doubt, I listen to you and I continue to welcome comments.

For tonight, I would comment on the bland exterior materials of some unattractive building (the Cornerstone Financial Credit Union in Hillsboro Village quickly comes to mind) or the lack of proportionality of an equally ugly structure (the LDS church and The Alexander, both on Hillsboro Road in Green Hills, for example). However, I'm being hypnotized by the lush sounds of classy British songstress Kate Bush. Feeling weary, I am off to bed.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Creating Places: Tidbit time

On a crisp and sunny Thanksgiving morning, a dear old friend and I took a one-hour drive through Nashville's urban core, a jaunt that allowed us to see many of the projects currently taking shape. With all due respect to my family, the excursion was as enjoyable as the feast later that day. My chum, a reserved gentleman who does not seek attention, will go unnamed. However, he was very pleased with what he saw as, too, was I. Here's the breakdown — as I ponder which funny lady made me chuckle more, Phyllis Diller or Estelle Getty:

* The Courtyard by Marriott building located at 19th and West End avenues has seen its exterior painted and is being re-roofed. Looks good overall.

* The brick color for Elliston 23 is outstanding. I've got great optimism for this building.

* Work is nearing completion on 700 Wedgewood Park (read more here). The brick facade (see rendering below) looks nice overall but the structure's sides and back, dominated by siding, are painfully plain. Of note, 700WP plays fairly effectively off the adjacent, and handsome, Glass Factory Lofts.

* I acknowledged many 12South residents will not want to read this but I truly believe 12South Flats will be attractive and function in an effective manner. I like that 12South is getting a building with some height and bulk. In fairness, I'll reserve judgment until the building is completed. But I this point, I am optimistic.

* Belmont Close, a five-unit residential building currently under construction on the northeast corner of the 14th and Wedgewood avenues intersection, is framed and taking shape. I don't have a good feeling about this project as I anticipate a very pedestrian design.

* In contrast, and a few blocks west via Wedgewood, Hillsboro Row is framed and strikes a nice presence fronting 17th. I predict that both the exterior design and the manner in which the building addresses the two streets will be very successful.

* Fifth & Garfield in Salemtown is looking stellar. (For more, check this previous Creating Places blog post.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Creating Places: A tower for Green Hills

Earlier this week, Southern Land announced its plans to develop in Green Hills (see details here). As many of you know, SL is developing Elliston 23 near Vanderbilt. That building, which I estimate is two-thirds completed is nicely taking shape.

A few points regarding the proposed Green Hills development:

1. The building (unnamed as of now) reminds me to some extent of Icon in The Gulch. In fact, at quick glance, the rendering suggests a view of Icon from the southwest corner of the 12th Avenue South and Division Street intersection.

2. On the Icon theme, I am not a fan, generally, of buildings that have brick-framed glass segments (as seen below in the mid-section of the tower portion) that interact with larges masses of glass. Perhaps this won't be brick but, instead, a tile of some sort. That would be preferable.

3. The mixed-use (office, retail, residential) format is strong. For comparison, Gulch mid-rise Terrazzo has the same combination and it seemingly works well. Of course, Terrazzo is a condo building. This structure will offer rental apartments. Still, the formula can be successful, particularly in Green Hills.

4.  I assume the office portion of the building includes the two floors above the retail (in the foreground of the image). That would be an effective physical arrangement.

5. The roof shows an eaves-like configuration at the tower's top front (seen in upper-left corner of the image). Very nice.

6. The color scheme (silvers, blues and browns) would work much better without the browns, which, again, I assume will be brick. With silvers and blues only, much like Roundabout Plaza (see here), the building would look much more sleek.

7. If Green Hills is going to land a mid-rise, this might be an ideal spot (extra traffic notwithstanding), as the building would anchor the eastern segment of the GH commercial district while the modernist (even brutalist) Green Hills Apartments for Retired Teachers (seem photo here) holds court on the west side. The visual balance might be nice.

Overall grade: B

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Creating Places: My take on Westmont Apartments

As the night winds down and following a reading of a review of the recent Who concert in Brooklyn (should be a stellar show at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 2), I offer a few thoughts on the exterior design of the proposed, and tentatively named, Westmont Apartments. (See details about the project here.)

1. The building shows impressive massing. In fact, it is horizontal enough that an additional floor would be nice so as to allow the structure to yield a more effective height-to-width ratio.

2. I like the amount of brick. The rendering suggests the building will be about 80 percent brick. I'm not certain about the other materials but I hope the base is made of stone (and not concrete).

3. On the base theme, notice how the upper floors at each of the various segments are well defined. Overall, there is nice proportionality.

4. The prominent main entrance and how it addresses a corner is a highlight. Very well done.

5. To the left and at the highest point on the side of that segment, we see an interesting traditional roof line element that, I assume, is a nod to the historic design features of the few old-school masonry buildings remaining in West End Park. Similarly, the structure does a solid job of combining traditional and contemporary elements (a fine example of the latter being the aforementioned entrance with its metal doors and metal awnings).

6. The top floors sport black metal railings framing what appear to be windows. I'm not optimistic that feature will be effective.

Overall grade: B


Monday, November 12, 2012

Creating Places: Which would you prefer?

My good friend John Mathieson is an unabashed fan of skyscrapers, not surprising given he has ancestors who lived in Manhattan and were in the business of constructing very tall buildings.

So I got to thinking if I would prefer that Nashville land a 750-foot-tall (or taller) high-rise or a building of some other type. Obviously, many factors would have to be considered. But for this hypothetical, I'll do the best I can. In all cases, the 750-tall or taller building would be located in the central business district and represents Choice A. Then I'll give a Choice B. And then my preference.

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 800 feet
Choice B: A stellar 300-footer with beautiful materials and forms, silver LEED certification and a cutting-edge design.

Choice B

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting
Choice B: A fully infilled Gulch and North Gulch with no dead space, vibrant building and pedestrian density and an urban Publix, urban Target and movie theater

Choice B

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting
Choice B: West Summit, Ray Hensler's tower and Tony Giarratana's SoBro (four buildings total)

Choice A

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 1,000 feet

Choice B: West Summit, Ray Hensler's tower and Tony Giarratana's SoBro (four buildings total)

Choice B

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 1,000 feet
Choice B: Bus rapid transit (as proposed)

Choice B

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting
Choice B: Bus rapid transit (as proposed)

Choice B

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 1,000 feet
Choice B: An amphitheater on the old Thermal site

Choice A

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 800 feet
Choice B: An amphitheater on the old Thermal site

Choice A

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 800 feet
Choice B: A Hill Center-type mixed-use and fully building dense development on the old Thermal site

Choice B

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 800 feet
Choice B: OneCity

Choice B

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting
Choice B: 10 Terrazzo's

Choice A

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting

Choice B: 50 Terrazzo's spread throughout downtown and Midtown

Choice B

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting
Choice B: An 800-foot art piece that would become an instant icon on the Nashville skyline and be recognized by folks worldwide (something like the Saint Louis Arch or the CNN Tower in Toronto)

Choice A (though this would be a very tough call)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Creating Places: A true gem

This vintage masonry building (image courtesy of Google Maps) is one of Nashville's most underrated structures. Located at the southeast corner of 19th Avenue South and Division Street in Midtown, the brick and stone building (you've likely seen it if you've ever visited Red Door Midtown for a few cold ones) shows excellent proportionality, scale and use of materials. It also has a side entrance (barely visible to the left) that gives it a slightly quirky feel. Tasteful and timeless.

Grade: A

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Creating Places: Bill Cobb highlights Pinnacle, Encore

A quick hit as I ponder which I would prefer, hypothetically, to see instantly added to Nashville's built form: 1. A majestic 900-foot-tall neo-art deco skyscraper or 2. Ten handsome mixed-use buildings in the five- to eight-story range and sprinkled throughout downtown and Midtown. (I lean toward Choice No. 2. but Choice No. 1 is surely tempting.)

Respected aerial photographer Bill Cobb, on his website, has updated his Nashville section to include photos of The Pinnacle at Symphony Place and Encore. Apparently, Bill visited the city recently and took the various shots from the ground (and not from a plane, which is his trademark and preferred mode of work). Bill, who is based in Kansas City, is a good man who submits quality work. I'm not sure when he added these photos, as I haven't visited the website in at least six months (and maybe as much as a year).

Take a look here.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Creating Places: Charlotte vs. Nashville

Given Charlotte and Nashville are peer cities that are waging a competition of sorts, I sometimes am asked which has the more impressive downtown. Obviously, there are many metrics on which to base an answer, including quality streetscapes, mixed-use buildings, civic buildings, water features, public spaces, number of residents, etc.

So, I decided to take a look at both cities, via Google Maps, and simply compare the sheer number of buildings of at least 10 floors or of a minimum of 100 feet (or both) within Charlotte's Uptown and Nashville's downtown. Of note, the two areas are very similar in geographic size. From what I can determine, both are about 2.5 to 3.5 square miles.

Here is what I found. (Note: I have visited Uptown Charlotte three times and have a decent feel for it.)

Uptown Charlotte offers approximately 63 buildings of a minimum of 10 floors or of at least 100 feet (or both). Of this total, a mere three (from what I can determine) were built prior to 1950.

Downtown Nashville counters with about 43 buildings of at least 10 floors or of a minimum of 100 feet (or both). Of this total, 11 were built prior to 1950. Of those 11, three — the Customs House, the Tennessee State Capitol and Union Station — derive about half their height from vertical elements (I did not count the First Baptist Church steeple or the Bridgestone Arena tower for this exercise).

Some other findings of note:

The overwhelming majority of Charlotte's tall buildings are located in Uptown (with a sprinkling outside that core). Conversely, Nashville has a noticeable number of structures 100 feet tall or taller in its Midtown and Vanderbilt/West End Corridor areas. Uptown Charlotte has twice as many buildings of 400 feet or taller (14 to seven) than does downtown Nashville. In contrast, Nashville has a significantly (I would almost say dramatically) better stock of vintage masonry buildings in the three- to seven-story range.

Admittedly, these numbers prove very little. But it was a fun exercise nonetheless. Now onto something more important — like, say, shopping for toiletries.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Creating Places: WES architect Duda Paine

A quick look at the Duda Paine Architects website (see here) reveals a tower with which I recognize from my various Google Maps explorations of Austin. However, I did not know Duda Paine — which is Durham, N.C.-based and is designing West End Summit — designed the skyscraper, which is called the Frost Bank Tower. Check the section dedicated to the building and note the outstanding base and entrance DPA gave the building (see images here). The firm does strong work and should give Nashville a pair of quality office buildings.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Creating Places: Buckingham project update

Last week, I posted on the Nashville Post blog site some info regarding Buckingham Cos. and its mixed-use project proposed for the Midtown site at which 21st Avenue and Division Street converge. Read more here.

This rendering suggests the buildings — or various buildings acting as one — could offer various plusses and negatives. I like the potential of the intricacies of the structure, as it shows various traditional shapes, forms and patterns. I also find it interesting that the entirety of the main level seemingly is devoted to retail space. I can't think of many tall/wide Nashville buildings with such a sea of retail at their bases (Icon would be an exception). In addition, I think the roof of the portion of the building facing 21st (note its sloping shape and the various gables) could play nicely off the roofs of the nearby (and fully under construction) College Halls at Kissam (check this image).

My main concern is that the building (no name has been announced) could be covered in red cream and yellow cream stucco and feature very cheap windows. Essentially, it could look, to some degree, like a massive — with inexpensive faux-trad detailing — stucco-clad interstate motel. Also, the building could be very "busy." I could visualize its attempts to look and function like multiple buildings failing, rendering the structure a massive mess of dissimilar sections that neither work well together nor well separately.

Lastly, I'm not convinced this project will materialize. Buckingham is proposing the structure be 479,000 square feet and carry a price tag of about $100 million. This cost is steep and even seems slightly under-estimated. Many tall buildings will cost a minimum of $7 million per floor (and as much as $15 million). Though the Buckingham structure is not a skyscraper in the strict sense, it is so massive and multi-shaped, it might cost up to $10 million per floor. The main section is 12 stories, while the hotel piece (at left and in red) would seem to be 17. Let's call it 13 on the whole and, at $10 million per floor, that's $130 million. At the least, I could still see $8 million per floor (or $104 million). Also remember that some of the building is planned for condo space, and I'm not convinced the Nashville market is ready for condo buyers wanting to live in a building with apartment units, too.

Having said all that, I hope I'm proved wrong and the building materializes and is both attractive and functional.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Creating Places: A look at the Mural in Black

A quick hit as I ponder which television character is more pretentious: that of Niles Crane or that of Frasier Crane.

And speaking of a man who was anything but effete ... Mr. John Cash: an American music legend.

The little cinder block building that runs along Molloy Street between Fourth Avenue South and Almond Street in SoBro now sports an updated mural of The Man in Black. And, I must say, it is outstanding. The former mural had deteriorated badly, so this new iteration is welcomed. If anybody knows the men responsible, please let me know their names. I'd like to give them credit. Great work.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Creating Places: A cool element at Third Man

As many of you know, I am a major proponent of having a built environment with tasteful, distinctive and quality "secondary elements," — everything from street signage to utility/light pole types to decorative banners to night-time building lighting to fire hydrants and curb-side mailboxes that are in good paint job condition. On this theme, check this segment of the relatively new addition to Third Man Records on Seventh Avenue South in SoBro. Outstanding.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Creating Places: Information signs of Nashville

After watching Episode 2 of Nashville — and now hoping that, at some point as the series unfolds,  Coleman Carlisle and Lamar Wyatt come to blows with the former pounding the smirk right off the visage of the smug latter (I suppose, given I'm compelled by the characters, that this means I'm now hooked on the show) — I felt inspired to submit a quick post regarding the new information signs that seemingly have sprouted throughout the city's core.

The good: The signs are of an appropriate height — tall enough to dissuade vandalism, via spray paint, but not so tall that they contribute to visual clutter — and secured by attractive black support poles. Some offer interesting wording (SoBro Attractions, West End District, Capitol Hill, etc.), while many are helpful (particularly to visitors to the city) and well placed.

The bad: The green and brown color scheme seems a bit odd. And on that theme, there is an inconsistency in that some of the signs are brown only. For that matter, some of the signs have a curvature at their tops and/or a Nashville logo while others do not.  The Nashville logo — as my friend Andi Stepnick recently remarked — suggests Hard Rock Cafe (however, and in fairness, the design and lettering of the "Nashville" have long been used by the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau). Some of the signs are placed such to confuse visitors or, as is the case with one in front of the 2525 Building on West End Avenue, in spots blinded by trees.

Grade: B

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Creating Places: A look at WES

Some readers of this blog have said they are curious to get my take on the design of West End Summit. Thanks for your interest. I'll start with a basic overview and continue in a later post.

1. I like that Duda Paine is the architect. I just checked the firm's website (see here), and its portfolio of office towers reveals great variation from building to building. Duda Paine, clearly, is not stamping out sameness.

2. On that theme ... I would prefer that each WES building have its own distinct design. The sameness of the two could render a collective blandness than would otherwise be the case.

3. And on that theme ... In general, I'm not a fan of "twin towers." It seems very 1980s-ish.

4. BUT, if we're going to have twin towers, this site is well suited for them as it will provide a nice variety of access and viewing (particularly as seen from the north and south) points.

5. Both buildings offer a well-defined base, main section and cap. That is almost always a positive characteristic. Some have mocked the caps, noting they suggest the buildings are topped with mohawks. I can see that criticism. But the caps will give some added (and needed) height.

6. On the height theme, neither building will be more than 300 feet tall, rendering both (at least potentially) a bit stocky. And sited side by side, that stubbiness might be exaggerated (as a horizontal vibe will be as evident as the vertical aesthetic).

7. The exterior materials should be very attractive. The renderings suggest mainly glass and metal (ala The Pinnacle at Symphony Place). I would hope there will be some granite elements (and not concrete). Of note, the renderings suggest the glass will offer a slight pinkish hue. I would trust that will not be the actual color.

8. I'm hoping the motor court offers a water feature. It's not clear in the rendering but I seem to recall during my chats with Palmer & Co. officials years ago that a water feature will be strongly considered.

9.  On that theme, the main entrance should be relative attractive and (we would hope) not excessively "vehicle intense."

10. Note that the buildings are "layered" as they begin to stair-step vertically toward their caps. This will add some interesting definition but might, unfortunately, exaggerate the stockiness of the buildings. When buildings stair-step, they tend to assume an almost "wedding cake-like" form. I'm optimistic that won't be the case with WES.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Creating Places: A fine fire station

The new Nashville Fire Department Fire Station No. 3 at the southwest intersection of the Cleveland and Meridian streets intersection in East Nashville is a respectable addition to the neighborhood — and a clear improvement compared to the excessively utilitarian station that it replaced (see below in bottom photo and courtesy of Google Street View).

Designed by the Brentwood office of Thomas, Miller & Partners, the new hall (my photo is bad) offers various positives, including 1. a smallish, column-flanked pedestrian entrance that fronts Meridian; 2. a well-defined separation between Floors 1 and 2; and 3. (on the left side and topping the engine storage area) a hipped roof (rather unusual for a fire station, I would think). Also of note, the building features a metal roof. For better or worse, metal roofing has become commonplace in lots of industrial construction. And when that metal is red (picture a Mrs. Winner's building) or green (visualize countless suburban strip centers), the effect can be painfully unattractive and bland. Fortunately, the fire hall roof is gray metal and actually looks acceptable. In addition, the landscaping is quite tasteful.

A few minor quibbles: The building is a bit too horizontal — though the previously mentioned hipped-roof component and two mini-gabled roof elements lend some needed height. Also, the tops of the first-floor windows are positioned somewhat too closely to the eaves-like roof element separating Floors 1 and 2.

Overall, this is a very respectably designed civic building. Grade: B to B-plus.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Creating Places: A take on the Trolley Barns

I visited the Trolley Barns — located downtown off Hermitage Avenue — today and was very pleased overall with what I saw. The exteriors of the buildings have been tastefully rehabbed and the landscaping complements the structures nicely. I walked up to the pedestrian bridge that will connect the residential buildings on Rolling Mill Hill to the greenway and the Trolley Barns. Very nice. In contrast, there is a bit too much hardscape for my tastes — with lots of concrete and metal benches and lights. Though I do like the industrial vibe these elements create, some grass might have worked. In addition, the amount of surface parking seems excessive. Still, the project looks to be a success overall.

Of particular note, and located near the Trolley Barns overlooking the Cumberland River, the Nashville Civic Design Center has installed various large-scale images that are the results of an international competition involving how the riverfront, East Bank and greenways could look and function in the future. The creations of the 17 remaining finalist will be on display through Oct. 14 and you can vote for your favorite through today. (Read here for more info.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Creating Places: A chat with MNAC leader Jen Cole

Jennifer Cole serves as executive director of the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the entity tasked with bringing high-profile public art to Davidson County. Of note, the MNAC will install 25 new pieces in the public collection during the next three to four years. Given public outdoor art can be key element of the built environment — and on the day the art-clad 28th/31st Avenue Connector opened — I though it might be nice timing to run this Q and A with the gracious Ms. Cole.  

MNAC is now taking bids for art on the Music City Center Roundabout. You have, in the past, ruled out a water piece. What might we expect in terms of size, night lighting, color scheme, materials, etc.?

The Selection Panel for KVB Roundabout met on Sept. 21 and selected six artists to create site-specific proposals for the Roundabout. The six are Vito Acconci from New York; Donald Lipski from Philadelphia; Roberto Behar & Rosario Marquardt/R and R Studios in Miami; Christian Moeller from Los Angeles; and Ursula von Rydingsvard from New York. The artists’ names will be announced after all applicants are notified, likely in early October.The artist budget is $750,000. We don’t know yet the site work will cost but my guess is the total price tag (site work and art) will be about $1 million. 

I cannot comment on what we might  see from a site-specific proposal, but each semi-finalist has produced work of the scope and budget scale we require from KVB. In addition, the panel felt these artists were best suited to respond to the project goals explicit in the public RFQ. The piece will not have a water component because there is no water source running directly to the roundabout and it would be too costly. Semi-finalist artists are encouraged to consider the piece should consider the following, among other elements:

* Engage pedestrian and vehicular viewers, both day and night
* Consider the elevation of the landscape, the vistas* 
* Consider the eclectic mix of old and new, history/future of the area* 
* Become a symbol of, or icon for, the SoBro/Lafayette/Gulch corridor* 
* Include detail that is relatable and offers additional rewards to those on foot or bike
*Support and echo the city’s commitment to complete streets and green infrastructure

We expect to finalize a timeline for this next phase in the coming weeks. I would expect a finalist to be selected by late spring 2013.

How critical is it that the piece be a statement piece?

Incredibly critical.

On the color scheme theme, I have often noted fire engine red is not an ideal paint color for outdoor art. For Ghost Ballet, the paint job is now very faded and looks jarring compared to the surrounding natural environment. In addition, the fire engine red and maroon gantry seem an odd color combo. What is the status of Ghost Ballet being repainted? And will it be a color other than fire engine red?

The color and materials of a piece are the discretion of an artist. (Legally, any public art piece color must remain that color when repainted unless the artist is willing to change it.) Metro Arts supports Alice Aycock’s work and her vision. It is standard public art practice to work with an artist when any capital maintenance is required.
The entire public collection has received a maintenance review. We are doing standard repairs to the bike racks as we speak. We will be taking bids on repainting the Ghost this fall and I imagine will complete the work in spring when conditions are more favorable for painting.

I've grown to like Citizen but have, over time, liked less and less the Exploration and Discovery trio of pieces. They are of quality design and craftsmanship and are simply too small. Your take?

No comment on the scale. The Scholar, one of the pieces in Exploration and Discovery has been subjected to numerous and repeated acts of vandalism since its installation. In consultation with the Parks Department, Metro Arts Commission voted on Sept. 20 to approve the removal and storage of the piece until a suitable alternate location can be secured. We are in conversation with the Public Library about re-locating Exploration and Discovery to the courtyard of the main branch on Church Street. We anticipate a timeline and final decision by the end of the year.

Some of the bike racks border on insane — and in good way. The massive mic at Music Row Roundabout is stellar. And I like the locks at the Main Library. What might we see in the future? 

We approved 10 new designs earlier in the year. Those designs are in fabrication and we are nearly complete with location assignment. Renderings of the new designs are available in our searchable public art map at our website ( Final locations should be public by the end of November.

What about the art component of the 28th/31st Avenue Connector? My concern about that art is that few walkers will get to stop and enjoy. I see the connector as being dominated by cars and, as such, will offer only a modest level of success with its art. 

Location and use are a major factor in choosing finalists and awarding contracts. The design team worked with the artist to support changes throughout the process that would reinforce both its durability and its integration into a complete street. The materials and lighting will, I believe, provide vehicular and pedestrian excitement during the day and at night.

MNAC is overseeing art in Shelby Park. Thoughts?

Denver–based, award-winning artist Lawrence Argent installed the work at Shelby Sept. 25-26. The work is a major piece of the Metro Park Department Master Plan and at a central location within the park that serves as the center/anchor for the pedestrian and cycle activation of the park. His work evokes the past, the present and the innate curiosity of the East Nashville community.We will dedicate the work formally as part of Artober Nashville at 10 a.m. on Oct. 13. The dedication will be part of a larger art-themed 100th Anniversary Celebration for the Park and all who love it.

Some Metro leaders — Charlie Tygard comes to mind — want to see more art in the county's suburbs. Your take?

Our public art plan includes locations throughout the county. We are mindful of the role public art plays in creating and enlivening public spaces and continue to look for those opportunities as projects evolve in outlying neighborhoods. 

The Watermarks initiative will be installed spring 2013. We are also working now with both the Bellevue Library design team and the Southeast Nashville (Hickory Hollow) design team to integrate public art in these two projects. Our plan will continue to place art in neighborhoods both through project integration and scalable pilots like the bike rack initiative.We work hard educating and conversing with elected officials at the local and state level about the importance of art, public art and art funding to their constituencies. 

Public art at the neighborhood level is part of a larger agency priority/strategy to ensure that all Nashvillians can access and experience the arts in their daily lives. In order to really be successful, we must coordinate our grant-making, our programs and our public art framework to respond to where people live — in and out of the urban core.

Tell me about the initiative in Donelson.

Donelson/Hermitage are a perfect example of neighborhoods coming together and leveraging art, artists and creative businesses to create or re-imagine a neighborhood brand.Donelson/Hermitage are home to dozens of artist studios, a growing gallery community, the Keeton Theatre, the Lakewood Theatre, the Dance Theatre of Tennessee, Arts at the Airport and the Opry. For decades, this neighborhood was home to stars and those behind the scenes of the Opry. New residents are eager to harness this history and tie it with some of the new, creative excitement. In the last six months, more than 50 businesses, McGavock High and community leaders have worked together to put art at the center of an economic and community revitalization effort.

“In Concert” — the mural project located at 2620 Lebanon Pike on the Johnson Furniture building — is the tip of the iceberg and not the actual story. Yes, more than 200 folks came out to pay for and paint this month-long neighborhood project.The story is that there are more than 3,700 followers on the Hip Donelson Facebook page and nearly 3,000 on Hip Hermitage talk daily about art, artistic ventures and supporting the creative life of the neighborhoods. 

The real story is that the creative centers of the neighborhoods are grounding larger economic development. The real story is that enclaves of musicians, artists and galleries are not just happening in the urban core. They are alive and vibrant and really driving economy and identity throughout the county.The mural is a manifestation of the larger collaborations and development that are fueled by art and artists.

Creating Places: Buckingham proposes VU-area building

Indianapolis-based Buckingham Cos. is looking to develop this mixed-use structure on 21st across from Vanderbilt.  I hope to provide a more detailed assessment within a few days. But for now, let me say that overall, I like the height and mass. Clearly, the building (for which a name has not been announced) could strike a commanding presence at the convergence of 21st Avenue, Broadway and Division Street. A key point: If the exterior design is to be traditional — as the rendering suggests — the materials need to be brick, stone and granite. My concern is simple. If this building is clad in creamy pink, yellow and red stucco — you see lots of these type structures in, for example, Atlanta and Dallas — the effect could be horrendous.  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Creating Places: Update on Fifth & Garfield

Before a quick built fabric note ... props to Gaelic Storm (a fine show tonight at 3rd & Lindsley) percussionist Ryan Lacey for both quality skin work and his showing respect for Nashville by wearing a Third Man Records T-shirt.

Ron Brewer, my good friend and the esteemed forum co-moderator for Urban Planet Nashville, recently took this photo of the under-construction Fifth & Garfield project (located at the intersection of the same name) in Salemtown, and I wanted to share. The brick color, roof line, window-to-facade proportionality, vertical windows, arched stone touch above the door ... stellar. I am particularly pleased with the verticality of these buildings. Of note, these are single-family homes, which renders the three-story aesthetic all the more distinctive (particularly for Nashville). The urban model is to "go up" and not "horizontal" — as we see in the suburbs. This is the type urban residential infill you see in the bigger cities. So for Nashville to land this type project is extremely encouraging. Kudos to developer Jim Creason. Read more here

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Creating Places: Mural musings

A quick late-night post as I listen to the tasteful Of Monsters and Men album "My Head is an Animal," ...

While motoring north on 21st Avenue recently, I caught a quick glance (photo coming soon) of a mural on the north wall of the Hillsboro Village building home to H Cue's. From what little I could determine, it looked very colorful and playful. Seeing the art piece was interesting timing in that I just learned the SoBro building with the Johnny Cash mural (below is a photo of a segment of the building) will be redone in October. I fully favor enlivening massive blank building walls — which can brutalize the built environment as they can be intimidating to pedestrians  — with large art pieces. The prominent images on the Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame Building are fine examples. For comparison, Dayton offers some downtown buildings with murals and "high-impact signs" (check this story). Let's hope Nashville gets on board with the mural and large sign approach.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Creating Places: Hensler and Hastings deliver

As I ponder what might be Nashville's most underrated building of 250 feet or more (I'm strongly leaning toward the SunTrust Building on the northwest corner of Fourth and Church) while simultaneously listen to Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer brilliantly reference Herman Melville, here are some random thoughts regarding the exterior design of the residential tower (shown below) local developer Ray Hensler plans for the Gulch.

First, let me commend Hensler for his choice of Hastings Architecture Associates. With quality buildings such as Roundabout Plaza,  SunTrust Plaza and Terrazzo as part of the firm's portfolio, HAA submits very respectable work — and buildings that have added nicely to Nashville's skyline. 

As to this building (for which Hensler has yet to reveal a name), its color scheme and well-defined base are highlights. I've yet to talk to Ray about the exterior materials (the rendering does not reveal them), but it appears blue glass will be a highlight — and I like that. The color palette suggests a nod to the aforementioned Roundabout Plaza (with its handsome blues and grays). Very tasteful.

On the subject of shape, note how the corner most visible in this rendering (I'm fairly certain that is the corner that will address the northwest corner of the 12th Avenue and Laurel Street intersection) is slightly extended, offering a nice contrast to the larger portion of the building's south facade. In addition, the tower showcases a well-defined base, while avoiding the appearance of a more conventional (and, typically, less attractive) "pedestal building." Another nice touch: minimal use (if any) of concrete. In contrast, it seems the Omni will have excessive exterior concrete. In fact, and if we're so lucky, Hensler and  Hastings might be using some limestone and/or granite for the building, much like HAA did in concert with Zeitlin Architects for Terrazzo.

However, and somewhat disappointingly, the building apparently lacks a cap (in fairness,  sometimes images of this type don't fully reveal all exterior design elements). Rarely does a skyscraper (or any building, for that matter) achieve 100 percent design success without some type of roof-top element, whether a spire, parapet, contrasting material/color, sign, etc. 

Also, the tower has balconies extending from its face, a design element that rarely works. I live in a building with extending balconies and while my balcony affords me nice views of Nashville's built form, such balconies can mar an otherwise attractive skyscraper. In contrast, Hensler's classy Adelicia features inset balconies, giving that building a very clean, streamlined look.

Lastly, I like the tower's height, as it is neither excessive nor insufficient for its site. I roughly estimate the building to rise between 250 and 260 feet, which should work quite well on its high-perched Gulch lot. For contrast, consider the building will sit on land that is elevated a minimum of 40 feet above the site of Icon in the Gulch, which rises approximately 251 feet, according to Emporis. Very simply, those pedestrians standing at the 11th and 12th avenues split and looking north toward the Hensler tower will, indeed, be impressed — but not overwhelmed with outlandish height.

If this rendering and Hastings' previous work are indications, I anticipate Hensler's tower to earn at least a B-plus grade for its exterior design. And an A-minus is not out of the question. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Creating Places: Park Central crane update

A quintet of tidbits as I ponder the realization that Ben Folds and Jason Ringenberg are possessed of — on some songs — similar sounding singing voices.

* My good friend Ron Brewer, whose passion for Nashville's manmade environment commands credit and respect, tells me the tower crane is up at the Park Central (formerly Park 25) construction site (located on 25th Avenue North across from Centennial Park). Thanks for the feed, RB.

* Concrete and rebar for Hyatt Place is now above (albeit barely) street level.

* I exchanged an email today with Dr. Anil Patel, who noted equipment will soon be on the site for his  mixed-used project slated for the 1800 block of West End Avenue (next to Hutton Hotel). The original plan was to have started Sept. 1 but, as is often the cases with large-scale construction projects, that goal was not met. However, if work commences by the end of the month, any delay will have been minimal.  Dr. Paten and I have emailed a few times the past several months and I gather he is a very conscientious and meticulous gentleman who moves discretely with his developments.

* The Vision Hospitality site is showing a contemporary design for the Chattanooga-based company's hotel proposed for Division Street in the Gulch. The image is too small to allow one to ascertain the building's materials, but it  does appear the hotel (the developer is seemingly wanting a Fairfield Inn) will at least not be bathed — as so many hotels nowadays are — in cream synthetic stucco and topped with a cartoonish fire-engine-red metal cap.

* Nashville businessman Gordon Gilbreath has a fascinating idea for a train/trolley line to encircle Nashville's urban core. Gilbreath, chief manager of Dovetail LLC and the genius behind South Nashville's Houston Station and East Nashville's historic Ambrose House, has talked to city officials about his proposal — I'm sure with much earnest. And though the idea is not yet ready to be brought to fruition, I commend the man for getting the dialogue started. More on this later.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Creating Places: Shaping up on Charlotte

West Nashville advocate Chris Veit pens some quality posts on his blogsite: Charlotte Avenue is Shaping Up! I recommend taking a read.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Creating Places: When copper is on top

As many of you likely know, I am a fan of buildings with metal elements. 
On this theme, Belmont University’s College of Law at the recently opened Randall and Sadie Baskin Center features one of the most eye-catching roof elements you will see in Nashville. Clad in copper, the building's dome was instantly iconic upon its construction. 
I recently learned that Nashville Roofing and Sheet Metal, a division of RSS Roofing Services and Solutions, constructed and installed the weatherproof copper dome. Interestingly, over the course of a two-year period, RSS worked closely with Earl Swensson Architects (ESa) and general contractor RC Mathews to design and pre-fabricate the copper flat-lock seam panels to ensure an accurate fit and a quality installation. 
Carlton McGrew, general manager of RSS's Nashville division, told me via email, “Given the dome had a double radius going in two different directions, with batten seams separating the segments, we had to execute the project in eight unique segments using a process of pattern planning.” 
Consider the execution flawlessly handled, Mr. McGrew.
Here is a photo:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Creating Places: Random Notes

A quick few notes as I ponder what is more thrilling as far as Celtic music instrument solos go: a playful tin whistle solo (check this one from the talented Mary Bergen: or a vigorous bodhran solo (marvel at John Joe Kelly:

* The fading of the fire engine red paint on Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks continues. I'm afraid the piece is becoming an eyesore (many would argue it was from Day 1).

* Pine Street Flats in The Gulch is taking shape nicely. The first residents will move in by the end of this calendar year. Of note (and not including the first floor), the building is stick frame.

* No word yet on a start date for Vision Hospitality's hotel proposed for Division Street in The Gulch.

* And speaking of the Gulch, check the building on the southeast corner of Division and Eighth Avenue South. I think it will be a pizza joint with a rooftop deck for views of the skyline. At this point, I have no idea if this structure will look attractive when finished. At this point, it looks very unusual. One concern: a fence lining the property's western wall.

* The Music City Center "tunnel" is looking outstanding.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Creating Places: Hyatt crane is in place

The tower portion of the Hyatt Place construction site crane was erected on Tuesday, and I would think the arm will be in place by the end of Wednesday. For those curious, the zenith of the crane appears to be about 200 feet. And, yes, it looks good — as do all soaring cranes. I would quaff a tasty Boddington's to celebrate but, alas, I have none.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Creating Places: Westmont future

The anything-but-gracefully-aging  — indeed, some would say tired and unattractive — Westmont Apartments (below) seemingly will be razed at some point to make room for a new development. (On a side note, in the summer of 1998, this writer, while visiting a buddy who lived at the WM at the time, enjoyed some leisure time by the pool. Out of respect for those in attendance, I did not don the swimwear.) I'm not sure when the Mont (located in West End Park off Acklen Park Drive) was constructed but I would think between the mid-1960s and late-1970s. As far as modernist-era local architecture goes, this is not one of the more attractive buildings in town. As such, if the multi-structure Westmont complex is felled, I can honestly say I won't miss it.

Check the Nashville Post site for details of the type project that might loom for the Westmont site.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Creating Places: Omni musings

I'll now take a quick look at Omni Nashville Hotel as I listen to Bob Mould's new album Silver Age, which erupts with a melodic thunder and roars with kaleidoscopic sonic blasts until concluding with a glorious final number titled "First Time Joy," an instant favorite song on a instant classic album from a longstanding master.

Omni officials are now offering a video (view here via YouTube) that suggests the building's exterior — originally and seemingly not much more than a modernist box with square green-tinted windows — might actually be decent. The structure actually shows some fairly interesting forms, particularly on its south wall (see middle image). To date, we have seen the south wall — and in a limited fashion — only in the top rendering. The middle image shows clearly a glass strip running along the top three floors that right-angles down the right side of the tower. Of note, this side of the tower (which fronts KVB) shows a well-defined base, mid-section and cap. I'm still not a fan of the square windows as they remind me of the windows of the Davy Crockett Building (bottom image) located on James Robertson Parkway on the central business district's northern fringe. It's fair to say Omni will not rank among Nashville's five best tall buildings but it should be a solid addition to the both the skyline and the streetscape.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Creating Places: Photos of the Ham

I have long contended that Birmingham is a vastly underrated Southeastern city. The city's combination of its central business district and Southside district offer one of the strongest one-two urban fabric punches (particularly at street side) in the South. Indeed, I continue to be a bit puzzled about how clueless many of those folks who follow the manmade environment — and who are otherwise quite knowledgeable about U.S. cities, planning, architecture, growth, etc.— are regarding the Ham.

The photos found at this link to a skyscraper thread reveal lots of solid infill in Alabama's largest city. (Scroll down seven posts to begin the "photo tour.")

Given I consider Birmingham a peer city (to some extent) more so than most people I know, I would be curious to get any feedback.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Creating Places: Woodmont Baptist signage

Woodmont Baptist Church officials recently updated, to vast improvement, their property signage (seen on the right) on the northeast corner of Hillsboro Road and Woodmont Boulevard. Note the current signage — with its attractive materials, shape and colors — stands in proper context compared to the main building. Compared to the original sign (at left), it is much more understated and tasteful, as the now-removed sign featured the time of worship and pastor name, elements that suggested a billboard-like "advertisement" quality. I can't even fathom how the folks who chose the previous sign thought it was attractive. The maroon and white color scheme and flimsy looking materials were, very simply, ugly. In contrast, the new sign ranks among the top 5 percent of signs (regardless of type) Nashville has gotten in the past few years. Excellent effort.

Creating Places: SoBro master plan musings Part II

As we learned last Monday, Pittsburgh-based Urban Design Associates  will lead a team of local companies (which the Nashville Convention Center Authority has selected) to assist in the development of a SoBro Strategic Master Plan. My previous post notes four recommendations as to improving SoBro. Here are a few more:

1. The intersection of Ash Street, Fourth Avenue South and Lafayette Street creates a small triangle of sorts. I cannot determine if a private entity owns the tiny parcel but I would think not. If Metro owns the land, it offers a prime spot for a piece of public art.

2. Lea Avenue. As my good friend (and frequent Urban Planet Nashville poster) Brett Withers notes, this east-west street creates a major challenge, as it angles at various points with no consistent connectivity to the north-south streets it crosses or T-intersects. In fact, from Tenth Avenue South on the west to Hermitage Avenue on the east, Lea is "broken" five times, likely rendering it SoBro's least functional street. That said, I would not want the street straightened, as that would require a cost (and perhaps substantial) for right-of-way acquisition. Some folks might desire the sharply angled Lea segment spanning Sixth and Fifth avenues to be closed. I would oppose that move, too. The reality is that Lea might have to remain essentially "as is" in terms of layout. However, I would like to see consideration of a smallish traffic circle where Lea crosses (at a slight angle) Third Avenue. A segment of the fire station land on the southeast corner could be used to accommodate the circle. With that move, Lea would a bit more effectively span Fifth on the west to Rutledge Street on the east. That alone would help. Perhaps some readers will have stronger recommendations. I would be curious to hear.

3. I feel Third Avenue South needs to be treated more like an actual street.  Given Second and Fifth avenues are one way north and Fourth and Sixth avenues are one-way south, I would hope Third would be kept a two-way street to maximize efficient traffic flow. But, instead of stop signs currently at its intersections, I would prefer to see traffic lights. With lights and a traffic circle (as noted above) at Lea, Third would begin to assume a more urban street form and function. This might spur some infill development. 

More to follow, including a look at Urban Design Associates.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Creating Places: SoBro master plan musings

We learned Monday that Urban Design Associates, a Pittsburgh-based urban design firm, will lead a team of local companies the Nashville Convention Center Authority has selected to assist in the development of the SoBro Strategic Master Plan.

I'll have more on UDA soon, but I will begin with a few recommendations as to improving SoBro and that might be incorporated into the master plan.

1. (To Metro Public Works officials): Modify Peabody Street from Fourth Avenue on the east to Seventh Avenue on the west. This segment of the street either needs widening (a possibly expensive proposition, admittedly) or should be converted to one way. With the vastly altered KVB only one block to the north, having a street this dysfunctional and so close to what will be a major urban boulevard once it opens seems contradictory — and jarring. 

2. (To NES officials): Enlist the opinion of the Nashville Civic Design Center before you skin your substation building located at Sixth and KVB. Gary Gaston and his team "get it." They will know the right materials, forms, color scheme, etc., to give your building a cool exterior vibe. 

3. (To MDHA Design Review Committee members): Don't meddle with the design Tony Giarratana has for his proposed residential high-rise SoBro. The good folks at Loewenberg Architects know what they're doing. Trust them.

4. (To public works officials, once more): If you are eventually going to place "SoBro" banners on the district's utility poles, please don't do so unless you use two cross arms per one pole. Having a banner affixed to an upper bar and a lower eyelet will not keep that banner secured — as has been glaringly proven with the banners in The Gulch and along the Demonbreun Viaduct.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Creating Places: Midtown Place update

Attached is a photo of the recently completed Midtown Place, located at 1016 18th Ave. S. and designed by Nashville-based DA|AD. It is no secret that this writer is a fan of the DA|AD aesthetic. The company does quality work and all its buildings display a certain "DA|AD vibe" that I admire and respect. That said, Midtown Place might offer a flaw (though I'll be curious to get the opinions of those who follow this blog). In simple terms, I don't much care for the placement of the building's mid-section balconies. There is an imbalance of sorts with the left and right sides of the structure's balconies in the correct facade spots but the two mid-section vertical balcony rows not exhibiting proper proportionality (if anything, they seem much too closely placed). Maybe it's just me and, admittedly, I'm not an architect. But this balcony placement seems odd. I do like the exterior color scheme and materials. But the balcony placement ... Thoughts?