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, December 30, 2012

Creating Places: 2012 Highlights, Part I

As I wind down the weekend — and decompress from the energy expenditure I experienced while watching Django Unchained earlier today — I'll offer a few 2012 highlights  (listed in no particular order) regarding Nashville's manmade environment.

*  Various additions and updates were finalized on multiple Midtown buildings located on Broadway and Division Street between 17th and 20th avenues. The most significant project, obviously, was the Home 2Suites. But other buildings saw paint jobs (Hampton Inn, Aloft Hotel and Courtyard by Marriott), a video screen (the First Bank Building), a razing (the Church's Chicken building), an addition (Red Door Midtown) and facelifts (the buildings home to Soulshine Pizza, Hattie B's and Gigi's Cupcakes). This geographically small yet very important area likely saw more activity than any other single node within a Nashville urban district.

* Ellison 23 took full shape. The more I take note of this building, the more excited I get about seeing it finished. The brick color and detailing, the proportionality, how it plays off The Mayfair, etc., are all stellar. This is a potentially outstanding new addition. Likewise, I'm almost as pumped about Hillsboro Row, the three-story residential building currently being constructed at Wedgewood and 17th avenues.

* Ground was broken on no fewer than 15 projects. One in particular, Vanderbilt University's Kissam College Halls, has literally blasted out of the ground since June, in the process redefining the 21st and West End avenues intersection.

* The roundabout at Eighth, Lafayette and KVB  and the 28th/31st Avenue Connector opened.

* HCA divisions Parallon and SCRI announced they are taking space in West End Summit.

More to follow ...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Creating Places: Good-bye Mr. Keathley

Nashville-based Street Dixon Rick Architecture did a fine job  designing the recently opened Middle Tennessee State University Student Center (see photos below). As an MTSU graduate (Class of 1985), I fondly remember the old Keathley University Center with its old-school lockers, underground bookstore and always-bustling cafeteria. Amazingly, a buddy (also a Class of 1985 grad) returned to the KUC a few years ago and was able to remember his locker number and lock combination. I write this blog post in his honor — and with relief he wasn't approached by an MTSU security guard for violating the privacy of the student whose locker he accessed.


Creating Places: A building changes on West End

After a nice day of ho, ho, ho, I was driving home this afternoon when the nondescript West End Avenue building seen in the center of the photograph (courtesy of Google Maps) below caught my attention. (For reference, Outback serves meat lovers from the building on the left and Maggiano's dishes out pasta in the structure on the right.)

I couldn't clearly determine exactly what had been done, but it seemed some of the white portion of the building has been painted blue. Clearly, if this is a new color scheme slated, the structure will rank, once fully bathed in its new hue, among the most unusual of all the city's structures designed with a modernist aesthetic.

I'll share more once I get the details.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Creating Places: MZA designs Village building

Creating Places: It takes an MZA village

In an interesting twist, Manuel Zeitlin Architects has designed the Hillsboro Village building that will replace the vintage masonry structure from which the company has long operated and must soon move. Seen below, the building will likely represent that most contemporary structure H.G. Hill Realty has developed to date (including 12South Flats).

Let's look at the positives and negatives of the exterior design.


* The building (for which a name has yet to be announced) offers an interesting array of shapes,  combining both horizontal and vertical forms. I suppose a critic might argue the building is excessively "busy" due to this feature. But I like it.

* As many of you know, I favor the neutral colors. The rendering suggests various shades of gray. Again, critics will call that "drab." But I see "industrial" and "permanent."

* I don't know what materials will be used, but I do know MZA typically shuns stucco. So that's good. I would suppose the structure will be clad in metal and tile. It could even have some Hardie siding.

* I like how the building's right section elevates to three levels as it steps back.

* The corner restaurant piece is well defined and could even offer garage doors (it's difficult to determine).


* I'm a major fan of well-designed contemporary structures, and this building surely will be an example given MZA's track record (the firm's Terrazzo and the Tennessee Association of Realtors Building are stellar).

However, Hillsboro Village is appealing, in large part, because of brick and stone buildings — the Belmont United Methodist Church and all the structures on the west side of 21st (notwithstanding the horrendously bland credit union building) being the highlights. Even the little homes with eateries and on Belcourt Avenue lend a certain understated charm.

This building, in contrast, will be anything but charming. It should be very sleek, energy efficient and eye-catching, but my concern is that it might wildly contrast with most of the other buildings in the Village, particularly those on 21st. True, there are some other contemporary structures in the district (for example, the building home to Sunset Grill) that work well. And the MZÅ/Hill building will be sited across the street from a gas station (which, by its nature, offers a somewhat industrial vibe).

Maybe the Village could use a more 21st century feel and, as such, this structure will fit nicely. For now, I'll remain hopeful.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Creating Places: A look at the Fairfield Inn

As I enjoy a tasty Blackstone Oatmeal Stout on a cool Saturday night, I'll write a quick assessment of the exterior design of the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott planned for Division Street in the Gulch.

First, I'm hearing criticisms ranging from "drab" to "generic" to "lacking color" to "blockish." And while I can understand how folks might feel this way, I have a very different take.

I actually find this to be a fairly attractive building. The color scheme of white, silver and medium gray gives the building a sleek and slightly industrial look, which is well suited for the Gulch. Even the blue signage is a tasteful hue. Were there some black, I would be very pleased. In short, I like buildings with "cool" colors, as those shades lend a structure a certain permanence. Interestingly, the Fairfield ever so slightly mimics the Hutton Hotel (I suppose, in part, because of the color scheme).

As to the aforementioned signage (three areas sport signs), it is nicely proportionate in relation to the overall mass of the building.

Here's a nice touch for a basic hotel (and not necessarily commonly done effectively): the building has a well defined base, mid-section and cap. Very nicely executed.

Lastly, the back right side and the front portion in the darker gray extend from the main walls to provide some variation in shape (and lessen the harshness of what otherwise would have been a flat-faced facade and side).

On a somewhat negative note — and props to my good friend Brett Withers, who pointed this out on Urban Planet Nashville — the entrance is not as visible as would be ideal.

Overall, a solid offering. I grade a C-plus to a B-minus.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Creating Places: Random tidbits

With the night winding down and The Who playing "Who Are You" on the 12-12-12 concert to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy, here are a few quick hits:

* Chattanooga-based Vision Hospitality is hoping to provide on Thursday a rendering of its planned Fairfield Inn on Division Street in the Gulch. I'll post and provide some commentary.

* The under-construction Hyatt hotel in SoBro is now pushing 75 feet tall and assuming some nice definition.

* I have very high hopes for Hillsboro Row, the three-story apartment building Evergreen is developing  at Wedgewood and 17th. I like the height and shape, and I'm optimistic the materials and colors will also be attractive.

* I'm hearing XMi is planning (or at least helping coordinate) a development at the northwest corner of the West End and 19th avenues intersection in Midtown. Already, the hideous building last home to a Church's Chicken and, before that, a Mrs Winner's has been demolished. I don't get the impression this will be a large-scale project, but you could put a construction trailer on the site and let it sit for five years and that would be better than a nasty eyesore housing a fast food chicken joint.

* Nearby, the Division Street building home to the soon-to-open Soulshine Pizza joint is looking nice. A quality rehab job.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Creating Places: A cool aerial photo of Bowling Green

I have made no secret of my admiration for the work done by the fine folks at Aerial Innovations of Tennessee. Based in East Nashville, this boutique company always delivers. On that note, check out this stellar shot of underrated Kentucky small city Bowling Green. For a better view, simply click on the image.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Creating Places: Nashville City Center parking project

A few days ago, I wrote about the new-look wall on the north face of the Sixth Avenue North building that overlooks the under-construction parking project Parmenter Realty Partners is undertaking at Nashville City Center. Read here for more on the project and, below, see the image. I like the placement of the garage entrance, as it is as physically removed from the NCC pedestrian plaza as possible. Also, note the two islands for trees. That alone will render the surface lot vastly better than its previous iteration. And the little structures for accessing the lot (and exiting it) will — along with the trees on the sidewalk — provide the lot with some definition.

The aforementioned wall, which now is actually attractive enough, will allow the surface lot, once finished, to at least look less harsh than it otherwise would.

Trees, small buildings, a freshly updated building wall ... combined, these seemingly little changes will make a nice improvement to this stretch of Sixth Avenue.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Creating Places: The Wall

The Sixth Avenue North limestone-clad building known for its Christian Science Reading Room space at ground level recently saw its blank north wall given a tasteful improvement. Previously, the wall revealed discolored bricks, rusted metal elements and unsightly cinderblock. Now the wall presents a freshly painted and streamlined appearance. True, this is not a major addition to downtown. But sometimes (as I've often noted) a minor improvement to the city's built environment, particularly when combined with numerous other under-the-radar changes, can deliver a positive impact. By the way, the building, designed in the art deco style, is one of the central business district's more underrated structures.