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, July 28, 2012

Creating Places: Local ugliness

A quick criticism of a Nashville-area building as I enjoy some Irish whisky and the music of George Harrison ...

As a young lad living happily in Bellevue in the late 1960s, I genuinely thrilled to visiting Phillips Toy Mart near the Highway 100/70 split. Back then, the little gem of a boutique business was housed in a tiny and unremarkable brick building, its treasures crammed from floor to ceiling within tight confines. Wondrous were the days my folks would take me to Phillips and buy me a Slinky or Legos. That little building is no more, replaced by the monstrosity seen above. Gruesome.

Just about everything I detest in generic exterior architectural design can be found in this building: a nasty color scheme, a cartoonish overall presentation, ugly materials, odd "windows" and bland awnings. Much like the toys housed inside, the building offers a somewhat childlike feel — a "we play with toys as children and then move on in life" aesthetic. In fact, the Toy Mart building seems immature and non-adult-like (if buildings can be such). Though I exaggerate somewhat, it pains me to drive past this junk on the to-a-from car trips to my folks's house in Bellevue.

As nondescript as the previous building was, it may as well have been the most grand building ever designed compared to its replacement. I have to wonder if most folks — who, admittedly, have more important things to do than walk/drive around and assess Nashville's manmade environment — consider this building as ugly as I do. On a positive note, at least the Peter Pan signage remains and the pictured-above segment of the building is not severed from the street by surface parking.

Now let me say that the interior of the building is airy, inviting and — for kids and adults alike — a treasure. I still visit every holiday season to buy the nephews various gifts. The staff is highly professional; the vibe, wonderful as toy store settings go. No complaints on any of these counts.

But, again, as to that exterior ... What has society come to when its citizens at the least, don't notice how horrid this building is or, at the worst, don't care?


  1. I don't find the building "horrid" in any shape, form or fashion. Perhaps, as a toy store, it was designed to be "immature and non-adult like"!

    Perhaps a bit too much Irish Whisky and George Harrison today William? Come back and write again when the buzz is gone.

  2. Horrid? Probably not. Typical over used store front design? Definitely. The building lacks character. It look smore like a hardware store than a toy store. Or, in this case a smaller version of a Toys R Us box store. No kid riding in the car with his/her parents or grandparents would notice this building as a toy store unless they've been there before. So, I'm not sure if the building is childlike. Unless you mean a child could have drawn it. It's basic architecture and lacking in mature design elements makes it immature looking and lacking in style. I would think given it's location the store owners would have wanted something that makes more a polished statement. But, if the budget was limited and this is what Phillips wanted, then I guess the architect did his or her job.

  3. I find it ok, not great, but not terrible either. Definitely not "horrid"! Works as a toy store and far better than a big box one like Toys R Us.

  4. Friends,

    Thanks for the feedback. "Horrid," "gruesome" and "monstrosity," may be too strong a word for many, I admit. Indeed, I have seen worse.

    Perhaps the whisky did spur me to go over-the-top with my criticism. On second thought, I'll simply use "uninspired," "bland" and "color challenged."