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.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Creating Places: Vintage grit

This stretch of Clinton Street (pictured at left) in North Nashville — and home to the stellar Marathon Music Works space —represents some of the best old-school industrial building grittiness and density that our city offers. Sadly, Nashville has so few of these type structures left. Since, say, the 1970s, the urban core has seen many of these masonry buildings leveled and replaced by bland vinyl or metal siding warehouse structures (this SoBro-based eyesore, at lower left, home to Sherwin Williams and located on Seventh Avenue South is of particular ugliness). Since 2000,there have been very few cool industrial buildings constructed within Nashville's urban core. One exception is the structure that houses the district energy system facility Constellation NewEnergy Inc. maintains on Rolling Mill Hill. Thermal Engineering Group Inc. designed the building (below) and did a strong job.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Creating Places: A Grand gesture

In an interesting development, Nashville-based high-end ground transportation company Grand Avenue announced today it will donate $85,000 to support Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee's efforts to promote effective mass transit in the region.

I note "interesting" in that Grand Avenue is a private company, while the future of mass transit in the area likely will be driven by the public sector. But Grand Avenue President Carl Haley is a smart man. I conducted an in-person interview with him recently and quickly realized he "gets it." Haley knows that public and private alternative forms of transportation — in this part of the country, "alternative forms of transportation" means just about anything other than a private vehicle — can work hand in hand. If Nashville offers a strong and vibrant mass transit system, Grand Avenue's sleek, comfortable (and often luxurious) buses, vans and limos can both supplement that system and garner business from it. The argument, very simply, is that the more folks who get from Point A to Point B in some manner other than the use of their private vehicles, the more receptive they become to using any form of mass and/or alt transit. in steps Grand Avenue.

Yes, Haley is a businessman who stands to make money if his company benefits from a community that is much more receptive, then is currently the case, to alternative modes of transportation. Maybe I'm giving him too much credit for being benevolent. But my chat suggests the man does sincerely like mass transit and thinks it would be cool if Nashville was more like Portland than, well, Nashville. He could fold Grand Avenue tomorrow and still want bus rapid transit, a modern street car, WeCar, motor scooters, bikes and Segways filling our streets — instead of massive single-occupancy vehicles.

So I commend Haley and hope the classy folks at Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee make good use of the $85,000.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Creating Places: RMH photos

MDHA just released two new aerial photos of Rolling Mill Hill. Visit this site to see full-sized images. An interesting element of the shot I've attached is the horizontal stretch of Ryman Lofts (you'll need to see this photo on the MDHA site to clearly observe the elevator shaft on one end and the stairwell on the other).

On a negative note, the massive surface parking lot that will accommodate Trolley Barns employees and visitors is very unsightly. I'm hoping some landscaping will be added to soften the harshness.

Lastly, apparently a "Phase II" of RMH (with at least two new buildings) will soon be announced. I trust one of the new buildings will front Hermitage Avenue between Ryman Lofts and Nance Place, as that is the most ideal spot on which to continue the RMH infill effort. In short, let's line the street first and then have development move toward the Cumberland River.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Creating Places: Gilbert McLaughlin Casella delivers

I have long admired the work of Nashville-based architecture company Gilbert McLaughlin Casella. Check the portfolio here. The recently opened recreation center at Christ the King (seen here and fronting Belmont Boulevard) represents one of the best efforts GMS has submitted to date.

This building shines on so many levels (my apologies as my photo does it minimal justice), including materials, forms, massing and street activation. The corner piece, with its handsome stone and metal windows, offers a neo-art deco feel. The wall running to the right of the corner element creates a subtle stair-step effect. The brick color is perfect, as it relates to the brick color of the older main building (not seen in this shot) by being neither exactly alike nor radically different. However, my favorite characteristic of the structure might be the stairwell with black metal railings. Note how it connects to the sidewalk, creating a nice interaction with the public realm. The only flaw (and it's minor) is the limited number of windows. But this is a gym and windows for such buildings are not easily designed or arranged.

Kudos to Christ the King officials, who were receptive to GMC's design. And a fine job by SouthLand Constructors with the build-out.

Final grade: A-minus

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Creating Places: Connecting Downtown and Midtown

This photo, taken a few years ago by my good friend Michael Davis, shows the physical disconnect between Downtown and Midtown. It also reveals that if there is to be connectivity between the two, it will almost certainly have to be provided by Demonbreun Street (seen on the far right and running in front of Roundabout Plaza and Rhythm). Keys to this will be the construction of four proposed large-scale buildings (assuming they materialize): Bristol's structure on the Roundabout (to be anchored by a Publix), Eakin Partners' office tower in the Gulch at the southwest corner of Demonbreun and 12th Avenue, Ray Hensler's residential high-rise (next to the Eakin building) and MarketStreet's Gulch Crossing (which will hug the Demonbreun Street Viaduct and face 11th Avenue).

In contrast, I don't foresee much significant connectivity via Broadway — as the stretch between 12th and 16th avenues has been brutalized by car dealership surface lots. And Church Street and Charlotte Avenue simply are a bit too far north of the current (and likely future) vibrancy to draw much major development.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Creating Places: Midtown Place update

The under-construction Midtown Place on 18th Avenue South is quite tall for a five-story building. It appears to be at least 60 feet tall and plays well off 1101 18th, the condo mid-rise across the street.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Creating Places: Density view

Standing (or even driving) at about 167 20th Ave. S. in Midtown offers a fairly impressive view of building density (at least by Nashville standards). This photo does not do the vista justice, so check it out yourself when you get a chance.

Creating Places: NYTimes article of note

This is a fascinating New York Times read for those of us who want more building and people density in Nashville.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Creating Places: A quick observation

The recently placed exterior signage at the Downtown YMCA is not working for me.