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, September 30, 2012

Creating Places: Update on Fifth & Garfield

Before a quick built fabric note ... props to Gaelic Storm (a fine show tonight at 3rd & Lindsley) percussionist Ryan Lacey for both quality skin work and his showing respect for Nashville by wearing a Third Man Records T-shirt.

Ron Brewer, my good friend and the esteemed forum co-moderator for Urban Planet Nashville, recently took this photo of the under-construction Fifth & Garfield project (located at the intersection of the same name) in Salemtown, and I wanted to share. The brick color, roof line, window-to-facade proportionality, vertical windows, arched stone touch above the door ... stellar. I am particularly pleased with the verticality of these buildings. Of note, these are single-family homes, which renders the three-story aesthetic all the more distinctive (particularly for Nashville). The urban model is to "go up" and not "horizontal" — as we see in the suburbs. This is the type urban residential infill you see in the bigger cities. So for Nashville to land this type project is extremely encouraging. Kudos to developer Jim Creason. Read more here

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Creating Places: Mural musings

A quick late-night post as I listen to the tasteful Of Monsters and Men album "My Head is an Animal," ...

While motoring north on 21st Avenue recently, I caught a quick glance (photo coming soon) of a mural on the north wall of the Hillsboro Village building home to H Cue's. From what little I could determine, it looked very colorful and playful. Seeing the art piece was interesting timing in that I just learned the SoBro building with the Johnny Cash mural (below is a photo of a segment of the building) will be redone in October. I fully favor enlivening massive blank building walls — which can brutalize the built environment as they can be intimidating to pedestrians  — with large art pieces. The prominent images on the Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame Building are fine examples. For comparison, Dayton offers some downtown buildings with murals and "high-impact signs" (check this story). Let's hope Nashville gets on board with the mural and large sign approach.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Creating Places: Hensler and Hastings deliver

As I ponder what might be Nashville's most underrated building of 250 feet or more (I'm strongly leaning toward the SunTrust Building on the northwest corner of Fourth and Church) while simultaneously listen to Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer brilliantly reference Herman Melville, here are some random thoughts regarding the exterior design of the residential tower (shown below) local developer Ray Hensler plans for the Gulch.

First, let me commend Hensler for his choice of Hastings Architecture Associates. With quality buildings such as Roundabout Plaza,  SunTrust Plaza and Terrazzo as part of the firm's portfolio, HAA submits very respectable work — and buildings that have added nicely to Nashville's skyline. 

As to this building (for which Hensler has yet to reveal a name), its color scheme and well-defined base are highlights. I've yet to talk to Ray about the exterior materials (the rendering does not reveal them), but it appears blue glass will be a highlight — and I like that. The color palette suggests a nod to the aforementioned Roundabout Plaza (with its handsome blues and grays). Very tasteful.

On the subject of shape, note how the corner most visible in this rendering (I'm fairly certain that is the corner that will address the northwest corner of the 12th Avenue and Laurel Street intersection) is slightly extended, offering a nice contrast to the larger portion of the building's south facade. In addition, the tower showcases a well-defined base, while avoiding the appearance of a more conventional (and, typically, less attractive) "pedestal building." Another nice touch: minimal use (if any) of concrete. In contrast, it seems the Omni will have excessive exterior concrete. In fact, and if we're so lucky, Hensler and  Hastings might be using some limestone and/or granite for the building, much like HAA did in concert with Zeitlin Architects for Terrazzo.

However, and somewhat disappointingly, the building apparently lacks a cap (in fairness,  sometimes images of this type don't fully reveal all exterior design elements). Rarely does a skyscraper (or any building, for that matter) achieve 100 percent design success without some type of roof-top element, whether a spire, parapet, contrasting material/color, sign, etc. 

Also, the tower has balconies extending from its face, a design element that rarely works. I live in a building with extending balconies and while my balcony affords me nice views of Nashville's built form, such balconies can mar an otherwise attractive skyscraper. In contrast, Hensler's classy Adelicia features inset balconies, giving that building a very clean, streamlined look.

Lastly, I like the tower's height, as it is neither excessive nor insufficient for its site. I roughly estimate the building to rise between 250 and 260 feet, which should work quite well on its high-perched Gulch lot. For contrast, consider the building will sit on land that is elevated a minimum of 40 feet above the site of Icon in the Gulch, which rises approximately 251 feet, according to Emporis. Very simply, those pedestrians standing at the 11th and 12th avenues split and looking north toward the Hensler tower will, indeed, be impressed — but not overwhelmed with outlandish height.

If this rendering and Hastings' previous work are indications, I anticipate Hensler's tower to earn at least a B-plus grade for its exterior design. And an A-minus is not out of the question. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Creating Places: Park Central crane update

A quintet of tidbits as I ponder the realization that Ben Folds and Jason Ringenberg are possessed of — on some songs — similar sounding singing voices.

* My good friend Ron Brewer, whose passion for Nashville's manmade environment commands credit and respect, tells me the tower crane is up at the Park Central (formerly Park 25) construction site (located on 25th Avenue North across from Centennial Park). Thanks for the feed, RB.

* Concrete and rebar for Hyatt Place is now above (albeit barely) street level.

* I exchanged an email today with Dr. Anil Patel, who noted equipment will soon be on the site for his  mixed-used project slated for the 1800 block of West End Avenue (next to Hutton Hotel). The original plan was to have started Sept. 1 but, as is often the cases with large-scale construction projects, that goal was not met. However, if work commences by the end of the month, any delay will have been minimal.  Dr. Paten and I have emailed a few times the past several months and I gather he is a very conscientious and meticulous gentleman who moves discretely with his developments.

* The Vision Hospitality site is showing a contemporary design for the Chattanooga-based company's hotel proposed for Division Street in the Gulch. The image is too small to allow one to ascertain the building's materials, but it  does appear the hotel (the developer is seemingly wanting a Fairfield Inn) will at least not be bathed — as so many hotels nowadays are — in cream synthetic stucco and topped with a cartoonish fire-engine-red metal cap.

* Nashville businessman Gordon Gilbreath has a fascinating idea for a train/trolley line to encircle Nashville's urban core. Gilbreath, chief manager of Dovetail LLC and the genius behind South Nashville's Houston Station and East Nashville's historic Ambrose House, has talked to city officials about his proposal — I'm sure with much earnest. And though the idea is not yet ready to be brought to fruition, I commend the man for getting the dialogue started. More on this later.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Creating Places: Shaping up on Charlotte

West Nashville advocate Chris Veit pens some quality posts on his blogsite: Charlotte Avenue is Shaping Up! I recommend taking a read.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Creating Places: When copper is on top

As many of you likely know, I am a fan of buildings with metal elements. 
On this theme, Belmont University’s College of Law at the recently opened Randall and Sadie Baskin Center features one of the most eye-catching roof elements you will see in Nashville. Clad in copper, the building's dome was instantly iconic upon its construction. 
I recently learned that Nashville Roofing and Sheet Metal, a division of RSS Roofing Services and Solutions, constructed and installed the weatherproof copper dome. Interestingly, over the course of a two-year period, RSS worked closely with Earl Swensson Architects (ESa) and general contractor RC Mathews to design and pre-fabricate the copper flat-lock seam panels to ensure an accurate fit and a quality installation. 
Carlton McGrew, general manager of RSS's Nashville division, told me via email, “Given the dome had a double radius going in two different directions, with batten seams separating the segments, we had to execute the project in eight unique segments using a process of pattern planning.” 
Consider the execution flawlessly handled, Mr. McGrew.
Here is a photo:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Creating Places: Random Notes

A quick few notes as I ponder what is more thrilling as far as Celtic music instrument solos go: a playful tin whistle solo (check this one from the talented Mary Bergen: or a vigorous bodhran solo (marvel at John Joe Kelly:

* The fading of the fire engine red paint on Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks continues. I'm afraid the piece is becoming an eyesore (many would argue it was from Day 1).

* Pine Street Flats in The Gulch is taking shape nicely. The first residents will move in by the end of this calendar year. Of note (and not including the first floor), the building is stick frame.

* No word yet on a start date for Vision Hospitality's hotel proposed for Division Street in The Gulch.

* And speaking of the Gulch, check the building on the southeast corner of Division and Eighth Avenue South. I think it will be a pizza joint with a rooftop deck for views of the skyline. At this point, I have no idea if this structure will look attractive when finished. At this point, it looks very unusual. One concern: a fence lining the property's western wall.

* The Music City Center "tunnel" is looking outstanding.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Creating Places: Hyatt crane is in place

The tower portion of the Hyatt Place construction site crane was erected on Tuesday, and I would think the arm will be in place by the end of Wednesday. For those curious, the zenith of the crane appears to be about 200 feet. And, yes, it looks good — as do all soaring cranes. I would quaff a tasty Boddington's to celebrate but, alas, I have none.