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, November 28, 2012

Creating Places: Four years and 257 posts

On Nov. 28, 2008, Creating Places was jump-started as a blog site. (Check the first post here.) During that four years, I've written 257 posts — a modest number when you consider 204 weeks have since passed. As this blog site enters its fifth year of existence, I admit I need to be more productive. On a positive note, this post represents my 83rd of 2012. So compared to 2010, during which I submitted a pathetic 44 posts, I have made some progress. Still, I can do better. Ideally, I will record 150 posts in 2013. That's three per week, not an unreasonable number, even for a man who is known to be lethargic at night (when he typically posts). All this said, I appreciate those of you who read this blog site. Some of you have offered constructive criticism, noting I need to use more images (I agree and I have) and write more often. No doubt, I listen to you and I continue to welcome comments.

For tonight, I would comment on the bland exterior materials of some unattractive building (the Cornerstone Financial Credit Union in Hillsboro Village quickly comes to mind) or the lack of proportionality of an equally ugly structure (the LDS church and The Alexander, both on Hillsboro Road in Green Hills, for example). However, I'm being hypnotized by the lush sounds of classy British songstress Kate Bush. Feeling weary, I am off to bed.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Creating Places: Tidbit time

On a crisp and sunny Thanksgiving morning, a dear old friend and I took a one-hour drive through Nashville's urban core, a jaunt that allowed us to see many of the projects currently taking shape. With all due respect to my family, the excursion was as enjoyable as the feast later that day. My chum, a reserved gentleman who does not seek attention, will go unnamed. However, he was very pleased with what he saw as, too, was I. Here's the breakdown — as I ponder which funny lady made me chuckle more, Phyllis Diller or Estelle Getty:

* The Courtyard by Marriott building located at 19th and West End avenues has seen its exterior painted and is being re-roofed. Looks good overall.

* The brick color for Elliston 23 is outstanding. I've got great optimism for this building.

* Work is nearing completion on 700 Wedgewood Park (read more here). The brick facade (see rendering below) looks nice overall but the structure's sides and back, dominated by siding, are painfully plain. Of note, 700WP plays fairly effectively off the adjacent, and handsome, Glass Factory Lofts.

* I acknowledged many 12South residents will not want to read this but I truly believe 12South Flats will be attractive and function in an effective manner. I like that 12South is getting a building with some height and bulk. In fairness, I'll reserve judgment until the building is completed. But I this point, I am optimistic.

* Belmont Close, a five-unit residential building currently under construction on the northeast corner of the 14th and Wedgewood avenues intersection, is framed and taking shape. I don't have a good feeling about this project as I anticipate a very pedestrian design.

* In contrast, and a few blocks west via Wedgewood, Hillsboro Row is framed and strikes a nice presence fronting 17th. I predict that both the exterior design and the manner in which the building addresses the two streets will be very successful.

* Fifth & Garfield in Salemtown is looking stellar. (For more, check this previous Creating Places blog post.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Creating Places: A tower for Green Hills

Earlier this week, Southern Land announced its plans to develop in Green Hills (see details here). As many of you know, SL is developing Elliston 23 near Vanderbilt. That building, which I estimate is two-thirds completed is nicely taking shape.

A few points regarding the proposed Green Hills development:

1. The building (unnamed as of now) reminds me to some extent of Icon in The Gulch. In fact, at quick glance, the rendering suggests a view of Icon from the southwest corner of the 12th Avenue South and Division Street intersection.

2. On the Icon theme, I am not a fan, generally, of buildings that have brick-framed glass segments (as seen below in the mid-section of the tower portion) that interact with larges masses of glass. Perhaps this won't be brick but, instead, a tile of some sort. That would be preferable.

3. The mixed-use (office, retail, residential) format is strong. For comparison, Gulch mid-rise Terrazzo has the same combination and it seemingly works well. Of course, Terrazzo is a condo building. This structure will offer rental apartments. Still, the formula can be successful, particularly in Green Hills.

4.  I assume the office portion of the building includes the two floors above the retail (in the foreground of the image). That would be an effective physical arrangement.

5. The roof shows an eaves-like configuration at the tower's top front (seen in upper-left corner of the image). Very nice.

6. The color scheme (silvers, blues and browns) would work much better without the browns, which, again, I assume will be brick. With silvers and blues only, much like Roundabout Plaza (see here), the building would look much more sleek.

7. If Green Hills is going to land a mid-rise, this might be an ideal spot (extra traffic notwithstanding), as the building would anchor the eastern segment of the GH commercial district while the modernist (even brutalist) Green Hills Apartments for Retired Teachers (seem photo here) holds court on the west side. The visual balance might be nice.

Overall grade: B

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Creating Places: My take on Westmont Apartments

As the night winds down and following a reading of a review of the recent Who concert in Brooklyn (should be a stellar show at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 2), I offer a few thoughts on the exterior design of the proposed, and tentatively named, Westmont Apartments. (See details about the project here.)

1. The building shows impressive massing. In fact, it is horizontal enough that an additional floor would be nice so as to allow the structure to yield a more effective height-to-width ratio.

2. I like the amount of brick. The rendering suggests the building will be about 80 percent brick. I'm not certain about the other materials but I hope the base is made of stone (and not concrete).

3. On the base theme, notice how the upper floors at each of the various segments are well defined. Overall, there is nice proportionality.

4. The prominent main entrance and how it addresses a corner is a highlight. Very well done.

5. To the left and at the highest point on the side of that segment, we see an interesting traditional roof line element that, I assume, is a nod to the historic design features of the few old-school masonry buildings remaining in West End Park. Similarly, the structure does a solid job of combining traditional and contemporary elements (a fine example of the latter being the aforementioned entrance with its metal doors and metal awnings).

6. The top floors sport black metal railings framing what appear to be windows. I'm not optimistic that feature will be effective.

Overall grade: B


Monday, November 12, 2012

Creating Places: Which would you prefer?

My good friend John Mathieson is an unabashed fan of skyscrapers, not surprising given he has ancestors who lived in Manhattan and were in the business of constructing very tall buildings.

So I got to thinking if I would prefer that Nashville land a 750-foot-tall (or taller) high-rise or a building of some other type. Obviously, many factors would have to be considered. But for this hypothetical, I'll do the best I can. In all cases, the 750-tall or taller building would be located in the central business district and represents Choice A. Then I'll give a Choice B. And then my preference.

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 800 feet
Choice B: A stellar 300-footer with beautiful materials and forms, silver LEED certification and a cutting-edge design.

Choice B

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting
Choice B: A fully infilled Gulch and North Gulch with no dead space, vibrant building and pedestrian density and an urban Publix, urban Target and movie theater

Choice B

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting
Choice B: West Summit, Ray Hensler's tower and Tony Giarratana's SoBro (four buildings total)

Choice A

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 1,000 feet

Choice B: West Summit, Ray Hensler's tower and Tony Giarratana's SoBro (four buildings total)

Choice B

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 1,000 feet
Choice B: Bus rapid transit (as proposed)

Choice B

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting
Choice B: Bus rapid transit (as proposed)

Choice B

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 1,000 feet
Choice B: An amphitheater on the old Thermal site

Choice A

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 800 feet
Choice B: An amphitheater on the old Thermal site

Choice A

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 800 feet
Choice B: A Hill Center-type mixed-use and fully building dense development on the old Thermal site

Choice B

Choice A: A bland glass tower of 800 feet
Choice B: OneCity

Choice B

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting
Choice B: 10 Terrazzo's

Choice A

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting

Choice B: 50 Terrazzo's spread throughout downtown and Midtown

Choice B

Choice A: A soaring and majestic world-class tower of 1,000 feet and brilliant night lighting
Choice B: An 800-foot art piece that would become an instant icon on the Nashville skyline and be recognized by folks worldwide (something like the Saint Louis Arch or the CNN Tower in Toronto)

Choice A (though this would be a very tough call)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Creating Places: A true gem

This vintage masonry building (image courtesy of Google Maps) is one of Nashville's most underrated structures. Located at the southeast corner of 19th Avenue South and Division Street in Midtown, the brick and stone building (you've likely seen it if you've ever visited Red Door Midtown for a few cold ones) shows excellent proportionality, scale and use of materials. It also has a side entrance (barely visible to the left) that gives it a slightly quirky feel. Tasteful and timeless.

Grade: A

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Creating Places: Bill Cobb highlights Pinnacle, Encore

A quick hit as I ponder which I would prefer, hypothetically, to see instantly added to Nashville's built form: 1. A majestic 900-foot-tall neo-art deco skyscraper or 2. Ten handsome mixed-use buildings in the five- to eight-story range and sprinkled throughout downtown and Midtown. (I lean toward Choice No. 2. but Choice No. 1 is surely tempting.)

Respected aerial photographer Bill Cobb, on his website, has updated his Nashville section to include photos of The Pinnacle at Symphony Place and Encore. Apparently, Bill visited the city recently and took the various shots from the ground (and not from a plane, which is his trademark and preferred mode of work). Bill, who is based in Kansas City, is a good man who submits quality work. I'm not sure when he added these photos, as I haven't visited the website in at least six months (and maybe as much as a year).

Take a look here.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Creating Places: Charlotte vs. Nashville

Given Charlotte and Nashville are peer cities that are waging a competition of sorts, I sometimes am asked which has the more impressive downtown. Obviously, there are many metrics on which to base an answer, including quality streetscapes, mixed-use buildings, civic buildings, water features, public spaces, number of residents, etc.

So, I decided to take a look at both cities, via Google Maps, and simply compare the sheer number of buildings of at least 10 floors or of a minimum of 100 feet (or both) within Charlotte's Uptown and Nashville's downtown. Of note, the two areas are very similar in geographic size. From what I can determine, both are about 2.5 to 3.5 square miles.

Here is what I found. (Note: I have visited Uptown Charlotte three times and have a decent feel for it.)

Uptown Charlotte offers approximately 63 buildings of a minimum of 10 floors or of at least 100 feet (or both). Of this total, a mere three (from what I can determine) were built prior to 1950.

Downtown Nashville counters with about 43 buildings of at least 10 floors or of a minimum of 100 feet (or both). Of this total, 11 were built prior to 1950. Of those 11, three — the Customs House, the Tennessee State Capitol and Union Station — derive about half their height from vertical elements (I did not count the First Baptist Church steeple or the Bridgestone Arena tower for this exercise).

Some other findings of note:

The overwhelming majority of Charlotte's tall buildings are located in Uptown (with a sprinkling outside that core). Conversely, Nashville has a noticeable number of structures 100 feet tall or taller in its Midtown and Vanderbilt/West End Corridor areas. Uptown Charlotte has twice as many buildings of 400 feet or taller (14 to seven) than does downtown Nashville. In contrast, Nashville has a significantly (I would almost say dramatically) better stock of vintage masonry buildings in the three- to seven-story range.

Admittedly, these numbers prove very little. But it was a fun exercise nonetheless. Now onto something more important — like, say, shopping for toiletries.