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, January 29, 2012

Creating Places: H-Village alteration

This quirky row of vintage commercial buildings in Hillsboro Village faces demolition, as owner-developer H.G. Hill Realty wants to replace it with a mixed-use (good), two-story (good) structure with concealed parking (good).

Now the bad: Nashville has precious few remaining architectural pieces of this type. The buildings, which front the west side of 21st Avenue between Acklen Avenue and an alley, are of different materials, colors and forms yet seamlessly work as one — even featuring an unusual (by Nashville standards) and understated private entrance accessing a second-floor office space. In short, the buildings are distinctive — a characteristic the replacement, no matter its quality, likely will not offer.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Creating Places: Random Tidbits

Driving about this weekend, I noticed the following:

• A tower crane is on the Elliston 23 work site.

• Midtown Place is topped.

• The former Wehby Plumbing building (located on the northeast corner of Pine Street and 12th Avenue across Pine from Station Inn) in The Gulch now has a very generic wood deck with white posts and latticework. The addition suggests a suburban vibe. Given the little building is a bit industrial and gritty — not to mention all the other Gulch buildings are adorned with decks, patios and/or outdoor spaces featuring concrete, metal and dark colors — I simply have no idea what the person who hit upon this design option was thinking.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Creating Places: An underrated church building

North Nashville's Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church ranks as a "hidden mini-gem" of sorts. Located on Herman Street between 21st and 24th avenues north, this modest religious structure is rarely seen except for those who live on the street or who attend services within its walls.

True, the mid-sized GMUMC is clearly no Christ Church Cathedral or Downtown Presbyterian Church. But compared to most churches designed and built today in the Nashville area, GMUMC's exterior design is quite handsome. A recent addition — contemporary in architectural aesthetic — respectfully modifies the traditional original building.

Any time Nashville loses an old-school church building (think Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ and the Masonic Lodge on West End Avenue), my appreciation elevates for those the city still has.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Creating Places: Rest in peace, Dave

Those of us who follow Nashville's built environment have lost a dear friend with the death this week of Dave "It's Just Dave" Luna.

Some readers of this blog site might not have met Dave, so let me say he was a class gentleman who was passionate about architecture, construction, planning and place making. In the mid-2000s, Dave was a regular at the Urban Planet Nashville Chapter monthly meetings and his contributions to the discourse were significant. But during the past two to three years, Dave attended our meetings only on occasion. I suppose his health was a factor. On a positive note, Dave did make our December meeting and it was great to see him.

Dave lived in Inglewood and loved the east side and yard work. He also thrilled to taking drives through the city in his convertible. I enjoyed a few such drives with Dave at the wheel.

David Lune was 58. May he rest in peace.

Good-bye, my brother.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Creating Places: Eyesore of the Day

Pictured at left are two buildings — one diminutive, handsome and vintage (on the right) and the other a fairly recently opened warehouse-like monstrosity — comprising the Watson Grove Missionary Baptist Church. Sitting on the southwest corner of 15th and Horton avenues on Nashville's south side (near Music Row), the two buildings offer a stark contrast in architectural presentations.

Let me preface my criticism by noting I'm sure there are some fine folks worshipping at WGMBC, decent and honorable people who undertake volunteer work, assist the elderly and the hospitalized, and are too busy going about the stressful business of life to devote time to maintaining a blog of this type. Indeed, the congregants certainly are contributing more to our community than this writer.

That said, I must be blunt: What were church officials thinking when they approved architectural plans for this design? I've seen more attractive sewage processing facilities. In fairness, I'm sure a modest budget limited the church's options, but this design is absolutely unacceptable. And hideous.

The photo doesn't "highlight" the building's various problems but they are many. For example, the facade offers no defined entrance. Rather, a small door (not seen here but located on the left side of front wall's protruding element) faces 14th Avenue in a head-scratching design feature (likely a safety consideration of some sort).

On the facade's lower right side (and somewhat visible here) is the HVAC system. A puzzling placement, no doubt. People don't voluntarily have warts placed on their visages. I guess it's OK to do so with a church.

The exterior materials include two brick types (those on either side offer a nasty, almost pinkish hue), drab off-white (almost a faint yellow) corrugated metal and stucco, and a green metal roof. The materials are overwhelming in usage and massing, while the color scheme elicits nausea.

Furthermore, the building — its roof so gradually and excessively sloping that its zenith is located much too close to street level — is completely out of scale in relation to the historic structure. The ugly church looms like big brother waiting to punch his little sibling for no reason.

Lastly, the steeple (and I use that word generously) is laughably tiny and made of flimsy and cheap materials.

If I were on the Watson Grove church design review committee that approved this bloated beast, I would be ashamed. Sadly, such religious building design (Covenant Presbyterian being an exception) has been the norm in Nashville for years.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Creating Places: Buena Vista splendor

And speaking of mini-masterpieces or, dare I say, full masterpieces, the North Branch Public Library building, courtesy of the Carnegie Foundation from years ago...

Creating Places: Woodbine glory

It's a late Friday night, and I'm pounding Google Streetview. Check this handsome brick-and-stone mini-masterpiece on Nolensville Road: the Woodbine United Methodist Church building. No doubt, this must rank among Nashville's most underrated civic structures.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Creating Places: Good-bye Ransom School building

Another vintage brick building in Nashville's historic-masonry-building-sparse landscape is about to be felled by the wrecking ball.

My SouthComm colleague Joey Garrison has the full story regarding the Ransom School building here.

Eleven homes are planned to replace this understated, yet historically important, piece of architecture. And let me put this bluntly: The developer could build the 11 most design-impressive homes Nashville has ever seen and it won't matter. Why? Because Nashville already has hundreds, if not thousands, of beautiful homes. In contrast, very few architecturally noteworthy civic buildings from the pre-World War II era remain. And the vast majority that have been constructed since then, and particularly since the 1960s, are bland at best — and heinous at worst.