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, October 31, 2012

Creating Places: WES architect Duda Paine

A quick look at the Duda Paine Architects website (see here) reveals a tower with which I recognize from my various Google Maps explorations of Austin. However, I did not know Duda Paine — which is Durham, N.C.-based and is designing West End Summit — designed the skyscraper, which is called the Frost Bank Tower. Check the section dedicated to the building and note the outstanding base and entrance DPA gave the building (see images here). The firm does strong work and should give Nashville a pair of quality office buildings.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Creating Places: Buckingham project update

Last week, I posted on the Nashville Post blog site some info regarding Buckingham Cos. and its mixed-use project proposed for the Midtown site at which 21st Avenue and Division Street converge. Read more here.

This rendering suggests the buildings — or various buildings acting as one — could offer various plusses and negatives. I like the potential of the intricacies of the structure, as it shows various traditional shapes, forms and patterns. I also find it interesting that the entirety of the main level seemingly is devoted to retail space. I can't think of many tall/wide Nashville buildings with such a sea of retail at their bases (Icon would be an exception). In addition, I think the roof of the portion of the building facing 21st (note its sloping shape and the various gables) could play nicely off the roofs of the nearby (and fully under construction) College Halls at Kissam (check this image).

My main concern is that the building (no name has been announced) could be covered in red cream and yellow cream stucco and feature very cheap windows. Essentially, it could look, to some degree, like a massive — with inexpensive faux-trad detailing — stucco-clad interstate motel. Also, the building could be very "busy." I could visualize its attempts to look and function like multiple buildings failing, rendering the structure a massive mess of dissimilar sections that neither work well together nor well separately.

Lastly, I'm not convinced this project will materialize. Buckingham is proposing the structure be 479,000 square feet and carry a price tag of about $100 million. This cost is steep and even seems slightly under-estimated. Many tall buildings will cost a minimum of $7 million per floor (and as much as $15 million). Though the Buckingham structure is not a skyscraper in the strict sense, it is so massive and multi-shaped, it might cost up to $10 million per floor. The main section is 12 stories, while the hotel piece (at left and in red) would seem to be 17. Let's call it 13 on the whole and, at $10 million per floor, that's $130 million. At the least, I could still see $8 million per floor (or $104 million). Also remember that some of the building is planned for condo space, and I'm not convinced the Nashville market is ready for condo buyers wanting to live in a building with apartment units, too.

Having said all that, I hope I'm proved wrong and the building materializes and is both attractive and functional.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Creating Places: A look at the Mural in Black

A quick hit as I ponder which television character is more pretentious: that of Niles Crane or that of Frasier Crane.

And speaking of a man who was anything but effete ... Mr. John Cash: an American music legend.

The little cinder block building that runs along Molloy Street between Fourth Avenue South and Almond Street in SoBro now sports an updated mural of The Man in Black. And, I must say, it is outstanding. The former mural had deteriorated badly, so this new iteration is welcomed. If anybody knows the men responsible, please let me know their names. I'd like to give them credit. Great work.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Creating Places: A cool element at Third Man

As many of you know, I am a major proponent of having a built environment with tasteful, distinctive and quality "secondary elements," — everything from street signage to utility/light pole types to decorative banners to night-time building lighting to fire hydrants and curb-side mailboxes that are in good paint job condition. On this theme, check this segment of the relatively new addition to Third Man Records on Seventh Avenue South in SoBro. Outstanding.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Creating Places: Information signs of Nashville

After watching Episode 2 of Nashville — and now hoping that, at some point as the series unfolds,  Coleman Carlisle and Lamar Wyatt come to blows with the former pounding the smirk right off the visage of the smug latter (I suppose, given I'm compelled by the characters, that this means I'm now hooked on the show) — I felt inspired to submit a quick post regarding the new information signs that seemingly have sprouted throughout the city's core.

The good: The signs are of an appropriate height — tall enough to dissuade vandalism, via spray paint, but not so tall that they contribute to visual clutter — and secured by attractive black support poles. Some offer interesting wording (SoBro Attractions, West End District, Capitol Hill, etc.), while many are helpful (particularly to visitors to the city) and well placed.

The bad: The green and brown color scheme seems a bit odd. And on that theme, there is an inconsistency in that some of the signs are brown only. For that matter, some of the signs have a curvature at their tops and/or a Nashville logo while others do not.  The Nashville logo — as my friend Andi Stepnick recently remarked — suggests Hard Rock Cafe (however, and in fairness, the design and lettering of the "Nashville" have long been used by the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau). Some of the signs are placed such to confuse visitors or, as is the case with one in front of the 2525 Building on West End Avenue, in spots blinded by trees.

Grade: B

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Creating Places: A look at WES

Some readers of this blog have said they are curious to get my take on the design of West End Summit. Thanks for your interest. I'll start with a basic overview and continue in a later post.

1. I like that Duda Paine is the architect. I just checked the firm's website (see here), and its portfolio of office towers reveals great variation from building to building. Duda Paine, clearly, is not stamping out sameness.

2. On that theme ... I would prefer that each WES building have its own distinct design. The sameness of the two could render a collective blandness than would otherwise be the case.

3. And on that theme ... In general, I'm not a fan of "twin towers." It seems very 1980s-ish.

4. BUT, if we're going to have twin towers, this site is well suited for them as it will provide a nice variety of access and viewing (particularly as seen from the north and south) points.

5. Both buildings offer a well-defined base, main section and cap. That is almost always a positive characteristic. Some have mocked the caps, noting they suggest the buildings are topped with mohawks. I can see that criticism. But the caps will give some added (and needed) height.

6. On the height theme, neither building will be more than 300 feet tall, rendering both (at least potentially) a bit stocky. And sited side by side, that stubbiness might be exaggerated (as a horizontal vibe will be as evident as the vertical aesthetic).

7. The exterior materials should be very attractive. The renderings suggest mainly glass and metal (ala The Pinnacle at Symphony Place). I would hope there will be some granite elements (and not concrete). Of note, the renderings suggest the glass will offer a slight pinkish hue. I would trust that will not be the actual color.

8. I'm hoping the motor court offers a water feature. It's not clear in the rendering but I seem to recall during my chats with Palmer & Co. officials years ago that a water feature will be strongly considered.

9.  On that theme, the main entrance should be relative attractive and (we would hope) not excessively "vehicle intense."

10. Note that the buildings are "layered" as they begin to stair-step vertically toward their caps. This will add some interesting definition but might, unfortunately, exaggerate the stockiness of the buildings. When buildings stair-step, they tend to assume an almost "wedding cake-like" form. I'm optimistic that won't be the case with WES.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Creating Places: A fine fire station

The new Nashville Fire Department Fire Station No. 3 at the southwest intersection of the Cleveland and Meridian streets intersection in East Nashville is a respectable addition to the neighborhood — and a clear improvement compared to the excessively utilitarian station that it replaced (see below in bottom photo and courtesy of Google Street View).

Designed by the Brentwood office of Thomas, Miller & Partners, the new hall (my photo is bad) offers various positives, including 1. a smallish, column-flanked pedestrian entrance that fronts Meridian; 2. a well-defined separation between Floors 1 and 2; and 3. (on the left side and topping the engine storage area) a hipped roof (rather unusual for a fire station, I would think). Also of note, the building features a metal roof. For better or worse, metal roofing has become commonplace in lots of industrial construction. And when that metal is red (picture a Mrs. Winner's building) or green (visualize countless suburban strip centers), the effect can be painfully unattractive and bland. Fortunately, the fire hall roof is gray metal and actually looks acceptable. In addition, the landscaping is quite tasteful.

A few minor quibbles: The building is a bit too horizontal — though the previously mentioned hipped-roof component and two mini-gabled roof elements lend some needed height. Also, the tops of the first-floor windows are positioned somewhat too closely to the eaves-like roof element separating Floors 1 and 2.

Overall, this is a very respectably designed civic building. Grade: B to B-plus.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Creating Places: A take on the Trolley Barns

I visited the Trolley Barns — located downtown off Hermitage Avenue — today and was very pleased overall with what I saw. The exteriors of the buildings have been tastefully rehabbed and the landscaping complements the structures nicely. I walked up to the pedestrian bridge that will connect the residential buildings on Rolling Mill Hill to the greenway and the Trolley Barns. Very nice. In contrast, there is a bit too much hardscape for my tastes — with lots of concrete and metal benches and lights. Though I do like the industrial vibe these elements create, some grass might have worked. In addition, the amount of surface parking seems excessive. Still, the project looks to be a success overall.

Of particular note, and located near the Trolley Barns overlooking the Cumberland River, the Nashville Civic Design Center has installed various large-scale images that are the results of an international competition involving how the riverfront, East Bank and greenways could look and function in the future. The creations of the 17 remaining finalist will be on display through Oct. 14 and you can vote for your favorite through today. (Read here for more info.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Creating Places: A chat with MNAC leader Jen Cole

Jennifer Cole serves as executive director of the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the entity tasked with bringing high-profile public art to Davidson County. Of note, the MNAC will install 25 new pieces in the public collection during the next three to four years. Given public outdoor art can be key element of the built environment — and on the day the art-clad 28th/31st Avenue Connector opened — I though it might be nice timing to run this Q and A with the gracious Ms. Cole.  

MNAC is now taking bids for art on the Music City Center Roundabout. You have, in the past, ruled out a water piece. What might we expect in terms of size, night lighting, color scheme, materials, etc.?

The Selection Panel for KVB Roundabout met on Sept. 21 and selected six artists to create site-specific proposals for the Roundabout. The six are Vito Acconci from New York; Donald Lipski from Philadelphia; Roberto Behar & Rosario Marquardt/R and R Studios in Miami; Christian Moeller from Los Angeles; and Ursula von Rydingsvard from New York. The artists’ names will be announced after all applicants are notified, likely in early October.The artist budget is $750,000. We don’t know yet the site work will cost but my guess is the total price tag (site work and art) will be about $1 million. 

I cannot comment on what we might  see from a site-specific proposal, but each semi-finalist has produced work of the scope and budget scale we require from KVB. In addition, the panel felt these artists were best suited to respond to the project goals explicit in the public RFQ. The piece will not have a water component because there is no water source running directly to the roundabout and it would be too costly. Semi-finalist artists are encouraged to consider the piece should consider the following, among other elements:

* Engage pedestrian and vehicular viewers, both day and night
* Consider the elevation of the landscape, the vistas* 
* Consider the eclectic mix of old and new, history/future of the area* 
* Become a symbol of, or icon for, the SoBro/Lafayette/Gulch corridor* 
* Include detail that is relatable and offers additional rewards to those on foot or bike
*Support and echo the city’s commitment to complete streets and green infrastructure

We expect to finalize a timeline for this next phase in the coming weeks. I would expect a finalist to be selected by late spring 2013.

How critical is it that the piece be a statement piece?

Incredibly critical.

On the color scheme theme, I have often noted fire engine red is not an ideal paint color for outdoor art. For Ghost Ballet, the paint job is now very faded and looks jarring compared to the surrounding natural environment. In addition, the fire engine red and maroon gantry seem an odd color combo. What is the status of Ghost Ballet being repainted? And will it be a color other than fire engine red?

The color and materials of a piece are the discretion of an artist. (Legally, any public art piece color must remain that color when repainted unless the artist is willing to change it.) Metro Arts supports Alice Aycock’s work and her vision. It is standard public art practice to work with an artist when any capital maintenance is required.
The entire public collection has received a maintenance review. We are doing standard repairs to the bike racks as we speak. We will be taking bids on repainting the Ghost this fall and I imagine will complete the work in spring when conditions are more favorable for painting.

I've grown to like Citizen but have, over time, liked less and less the Exploration and Discovery trio of pieces. They are of quality design and craftsmanship and are simply too small. Your take?

No comment on the scale. The Scholar, one of the pieces in Exploration and Discovery has been subjected to numerous and repeated acts of vandalism since its installation. In consultation with the Parks Department, Metro Arts Commission voted on Sept. 20 to approve the removal and storage of the piece until a suitable alternate location can be secured. We are in conversation with the Public Library about re-locating Exploration and Discovery to the courtyard of the main branch on Church Street. We anticipate a timeline and final decision by the end of the year.

Some of the bike racks border on insane — and in good way. The massive mic at Music Row Roundabout is stellar. And I like the locks at the Main Library. What might we see in the future? 

We approved 10 new designs earlier in the year. Those designs are in fabrication and we are nearly complete with location assignment. Renderings of the new designs are available in our searchable public art map at our website ( Final locations should be public by the end of November.

What about the art component of the 28th/31st Avenue Connector? My concern about that art is that few walkers will get to stop and enjoy. I see the connector as being dominated by cars and, as such, will offer only a modest level of success with its art. 

Location and use are a major factor in choosing finalists and awarding contracts. The design team worked with the artist to support changes throughout the process that would reinforce both its durability and its integration into a complete street. The materials and lighting will, I believe, provide vehicular and pedestrian excitement during the day and at night.

MNAC is overseeing art in Shelby Park. Thoughts?

Denver–based, award-winning artist Lawrence Argent installed the work at Shelby Sept. 25-26. The work is a major piece of the Metro Park Department Master Plan and at a central location within the park that serves as the center/anchor for the pedestrian and cycle activation of the park. His work evokes the past, the present and the innate curiosity of the East Nashville community.We will dedicate the work formally as part of Artober Nashville at 10 a.m. on Oct. 13. The dedication will be part of a larger art-themed 100th Anniversary Celebration for the Park and all who love it.

Some Metro leaders — Charlie Tygard comes to mind — want to see more art in the county's suburbs. Your take?

Our public art plan includes locations throughout the county. We are mindful of the role public art plays in creating and enlivening public spaces and continue to look for those opportunities as projects evolve in outlying neighborhoods. 

The Watermarks initiative will be installed spring 2013. We are also working now with both the Bellevue Library design team and the Southeast Nashville (Hickory Hollow) design team to integrate public art in these two projects. Our plan will continue to place art in neighborhoods both through project integration and scalable pilots like the bike rack initiative.We work hard educating and conversing with elected officials at the local and state level about the importance of art, public art and art funding to their constituencies. 

Public art at the neighborhood level is part of a larger agency priority/strategy to ensure that all Nashvillians can access and experience the arts in their daily lives. In order to really be successful, we must coordinate our grant-making, our programs and our public art framework to respond to where people live — in and out of the urban core.

Tell me about the initiative in Donelson.

Donelson/Hermitage are a perfect example of neighborhoods coming together and leveraging art, artists and creative businesses to create or re-imagine a neighborhood brand.Donelson/Hermitage are home to dozens of artist studios, a growing gallery community, the Keeton Theatre, the Lakewood Theatre, the Dance Theatre of Tennessee, Arts at the Airport and the Opry. For decades, this neighborhood was home to stars and those behind the scenes of the Opry. New residents are eager to harness this history and tie it with some of the new, creative excitement. In the last six months, more than 50 businesses, McGavock High and community leaders have worked together to put art at the center of an economic and community revitalization effort.

“In Concert” — the mural project located at 2620 Lebanon Pike on the Johnson Furniture building — is the tip of the iceberg and not the actual story. Yes, more than 200 folks came out to pay for and paint this month-long neighborhood project.The story is that there are more than 3,700 followers on the Hip Donelson Facebook page and nearly 3,000 on Hip Hermitage talk daily about art, artistic ventures and supporting the creative life of the neighborhoods. 

The real story is that the creative centers of the neighborhoods are grounding larger economic development. The real story is that enclaves of musicians, artists and galleries are not just happening in the urban core. They are alive and vibrant and really driving economy and identity throughout the county.The mural is a manifestation of the larger collaborations and development that are fueled by art and artists.

Creating Places: Buckingham proposes VU-area building

Indianapolis-based Buckingham Cos. is looking to develop this mixed-use structure on 21st across from Vanderbilt.  I hope to provide a more detailed assessment within a few days. But for now, let me say that overall, I like the height and mass. Clearly, the building (for which a name has not been announced) could strike a commanding presence at the convergence of 21st Avenue, Broadway and Division Street. A key point: If the exterior design is to be traditional — as the rendering suggests — the materials need to be brick, stone and granite. My concern is simple. If this building is clad in creamy pink, yellow and red stucco — you see lots of these type structures in, for example, Atlanta and Dallas — the effect could be horrendous.