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.

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?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Creating Places: Nashville from on high

Check this site for some tasteful photos of Nashville prior to 1950. Of particular note, click on the Tennessee State Capitol shot (Row 2, Photo No. 3), as it details the type grand built form we once had downtown. Even into the early 1960s, Nashville — both downtown and Midtown — offered numerous beautiful brick and stone buildings. But by the mid-1960s, the wrecking ball was wreaking havoc on the city's urban core. By 1980, I would estimate, up to two-thirds of Nashville's pre-World War II-built structures (not including single-family homes) had been demolished. Somehow, many other cities escaped the carnage — at least to the degree Nashville suffered. To this day, I envy mid-sized Southern cities like Birmingham, Louisville and Memphis for their number of vintage buildings still standing.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Creating Places: Downtown OKC from on high

Check this site for some stellar aerial photography of Oklahoma City, a mid-sized city that is a Nashville peer of sorts. Note the dominance of the 52-story Devon Tower, which opened this past spring. The striking high-rise has redefined the Oklahoma capital's skyline. Kudos to Holly Baumann for a great job of capturing the essence of OKC's urban core.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Creating Places: SDR designs church in Pleasant Hill

This is one of the more unusual contemporary church designs I've seen in the general Middle Tennessee area. Nashville-based Street Dixon Rick Architecture designed the building, which is noteworthy for its striking tower. I particularly like the manner in which the tower is positioned on a corner. Also, I find the segment to the left of the tower very attractive. In contrast, the piece to the far right (with the lit three windows) is a bit bland as it suggests a home of sorts. And, of course, there is the requisite surface parking in front. But overall, this building represents quality church architecture, and I surprise myself in saying such given I typically detest horizontal religious buildings. Visit this site for another SDR-designed church of note.

Creating Places: The color of Vista Germantown

This photo (taken about two weeks ago) shows six colors on the south face of Vista Germantown (which nears completion on Jefferson Street). I've counted at least three others. Are nine (perhaps even 10) colors excessive for a building or does Nashville need some infill structures that "push the color palette envelope"? As Linda Richmond would say on Coffee Talk, "Talk amongst yourselves."