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, May 30, 2012

Creating Places: Hyatt Place update

I noticed this morning some workers on the SoBro site that will be home to the 255-room Hyatt Place. With the site cleared (razing of the Rock City Machine Co. Building was completed earlier this month), today's effort seemingly would signal construction of the 13-story hotel has officially begun. Read more here.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Creating Places: The new Blue (Bar)

The new-look building home to Blue Bar, located on Broadway in Midtown, is a dramatic change (and improvement) compared to its previous iteration. Of note, all that was required for this facelift was a paint job. Recall that the building formerly sported a hideous pinkish, raspberryish, reddish (I'm not sure what you would have called the color) exterior.

On this theme, it continues to baffle me that some folks think buildings can be attractive with exterior color pallets featuring pastels, hots (reds, yellows, oranges, etc.) and electric hues (recall the lime components of the 21st Avenue South building once home to Dooley's). Rarely does this approach prove effective (the painted ladies in San Francisco being exceptions to the rule).

With its earth tone colors, the freshly painted Blue Bar Building (its battered wood deck notwithstanding) nicely strikes a visually pleasing presence.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Creating Places: Vanderbilt eyesore

This battered wood fence runs along 21st Avenue and frames Vanderbilt University's One Magnolia Circle and Kennedy Center. Given VU's stellar planning, architecture, landscaping and design efforts of the past 15 years or so, I'm baffled the university allows this eyesore to remain. Weather-beaten and deteriorating, the fence (I believe it conceals a daycare facility playground) might date from the 1960s. What makes the fence's presence all the more painful is the otherwise impressive stretch of 21st, with an imposing wall of mid-rises on its west side and the stately Peabody campus on the east side. One could argue this is one of Nashville's five most urban and big-city stretches of street — the ramshackle fence notwithstanding. If I might lamely take a line from the late Ronald Reagan ... "Vanderbilt, tear down this fence."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Creating Places: Midtown density

This photo at left (courtesy of Daniel Mills, an Urban Planet Nashville forum member and a skilled camera man) nicely highlights the density being created in Midtown. I actually like the design (at least well enough) of the new Hilton Home2Suites (which is not visible in the aerial view but is located where at the V point in the lower right corner). Currently the geographic area bordered by West End Avenue on the north, 19th Avenue on the west, Division Street on the south and 17th Avenue on the east boasts nine structures of six floors or more floors (I'm counting the Hotel Indigo and Palmer Plaza parking structures as individual entities). If the Patel hotel project materializes (seemingly a major "if"), that's an even 10 good-size buildings within a very walkable slice of space. For a city of Nashville's size to have such building massing and density outside its central business district is rather impressive. Still (and as the aerial photo shows), there remains some dead space. The V-shape lot at Division and 19th (picture the cinderblock building home to Virginia's Market) and seen in the lower right corner of the photo is crying for redevelopment. Likewise the northwest corner of the area (visualize the buildings housing BP, Arby's, Midtown Cafe and Gigi's Cupcakes) is vastly underutilized. It will be very interesting to see how this relative geographically tight area unfolds during the next five years or so.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Creating Places: ULI awards

I've never been a member of the Urban Land Institute. But I surely respect this organization, as it expertly emphasizes the importance of an attractive and functional built form for our society. These folks are dedicated to the manmade fabric — and they also know how to throw a party.

Last night, and looming over downtown Nashville on the 21st floor of the stellar The Pinnacle at Symphony Place, the ULI's Nashville District Council held its annual Excellence in Development Awards. Lots of architects, engineers and builders were in attendance, enjoying wine, beer, finger foods and good chat. Somehow I crashed the bash and quaffed a few Yazoos.

For the awards, Council Chairman Ed Owens, he of MDHA  fame, spoke, as did Mac Pirkle, a respected supporter of the local arts scene. Both did fine job.

But Richard "Rick" M. Rosan, president of the Urban Land Institute Foundation and previously CEO of ULI Worldwide, had the greatest impact (in an understated way), as he delivered the keynote address, "Weaving the Urban Fabric: The Threads of Infill, Adaptive Reuse and Public/Partnerships." The Washington, D.C.-based Rosan noted he has assessed, while visiting the city, about 40 Nashville buildings completed during the past two years. Unlike some outsiders who speak in broad terms when they visit Nashville (in the process, revealing they, understandably, know very little about the city), Rosan actually showed some specific knowledge of Nashville. He stressed riverfront development, a progressive Karl Dean administration and the importance of Generation Y. 

Here are the winners:

Astoria, in Green Hills’ Bedford Avenue mixed-use development. Development team includes: Ewing Properties; Southeast Venture; T.W. Frierson; Barge Cauthen Associates; Enfinity Engineering; EMC Structural Engineers, PC.

I am a major fan of this building. It offers a subtle touch of neo-art deco. Classy and tasteful, Astoria will age nicely.

Franklin Theatre, on historic Main Street in Franklin. Development team includes: The Heritage Foundation; Franklin Theatre; Hastings Architecture Associates; Batten & Shaw Inc.; EMC Structural Engineers, PC; Westlake Reed Leskosky; Clair Brothers

I’ve yet to go inside but the exterior update is stellar.

McCabe Park Community Center, Nashville’s first LEED-certified regional community center.
Development team includes: Metro Board of Parks and Recreation; Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County; Hastings Architecture Associates, LLC; R.G. Anderson Company, Inc.; Littlejohn Engineering Associates, Inc.; EMC Structural Engineers, PC; Hawkins Partners, Inc.; Power Management Corporation; greenSTUDIO

My second-favorite (behind EO’s East Park Community Center) of the Metro Park Department’s recently unveiled community centers. Lots of interesting shapes and materials.

Nance Place, a 109-unit workforce housing apartment in Rolling Mill Hill. Development team includes: MDHA, Moody Nolan, DA/AD, Bomar Construction Company, Littlejohn Engineering Associates, Inc.; EMC Structural Engineers, PC; iDesign Services, Inc.; Ashworth Environmental Design; Olert Engineering, Inc.

This is a quality building but it is my least favorite of the DA|AD-designed structures that have  infilled the city during the past 10 years. The side that fronts Hermitage Avenue is a bit bland and the color scheme could be better. Still, Nance Place is a strong building.

Room In The Inn, Center for Human Development
Development team includes: Campus for Human Development; Oxford Architecture; American Constructors, Inc.; Dale & Associates; EMC Structural Engineers, PC; Devita & Associate, Inc.; DesiGNllc.

A top-notch building. The only negative: It does not address a street and, instead, is surrounded by other buildings and surface parking.

Ruby, new event center in Hillsboro Village
Development team includes: Cook-Land, LLC; Polifilo Architects; Fry Construction; EMC Structural Engineers, PC; Live Oak Co.; Penland Studio; Village Real Estate Services; Insbank

A superb effort. Wonderful both inside and out.

This year’s award applicants also included the following: Ameriplex at Elm Hill, GSA Nashville, Marathon Music Work, Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant, Ruby, Vanderbilt University Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center and the West Police Precinct.