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, February 27, 2013

Creating Places: An underrated Midtown building

On occasion, I find a building likable for some seemingly minor reason. It could be something as simple, for example, as the structure's brick color, symmetry or the fact that no cream stucco has been applied to its exterior. On this theme I have grown very fond of the little building seen below and located in the 1900 block of Church Street in Midtown. Perhaps I like it mainly because it's as tall as it is wide, a configuration that is both urban (with vertical preferred to horizontal) and uncommon when compared to many of Midtown's commercial buildings.

I seem to recall the building (I don't know the architect so if anybody does, please note) was constructed in the mid-2000s. For a time, I considered its exterior design to be very average. But nowadays, I grade that design a B-minus at the minimum, and maybe a B-plus. Some folks might not be so kind. I suppose critics might dislike how the parapet and the second-level windows stair step in an opposite manner, creating what they could argue is a jolting effect. Others might feel the window in the center of the building is excessively large in relation to the other windows. Still others might contend the subtle H-shape of the structure is a bit odd.

Regardless, I find the little commercial building underrated — and a fine addition to the public realm.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creating Places: Random Tidbits

A few quick hits before I retire for the evening:

* Below is an image of the building Texas-based Meeks Partners has designed for an unnamed developer. The structure will sit on Eighth Avenue North across the street from the Farmers Market in Hope Gardens. I like it overall but it does seem to lack some proportionality (it appears a bit too horizontal in relation to its verticality). More thoughts later.

* The Music City Center will soon sport signage. I can't determine at this point if it will be attractive. I've seen at least two (and maybe three) signs being prepared for finish.

* If all goes well, Pine Street Flats will feature The Pub, an English tavern, as a retail tenant. I have visited Nicholson's Pub & Tavern in Cincinnati (the same Ohio-based company owns both The Pub and Nicholson's) and was very impressed. This should be a strong addition to the Gulch.

* Jim Creason's Luxus Germantown is moving toward reality. Should be a strong example of traditional design. Read more here.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Creating Places: Projects of distinction

With the scrapping of The Streets of Brentwood, announced last week, I decided to craft a list of "distinctive projects" that Nashville both has seen materialized and scrapped since 2000. 

Of note, I did not include public/government projects, instead limiting the list to private development. As such, I did not include, for example, the Music City Center, the Music City Central and Cumberland Park (each, admittedly, noteworthy) or the Federal Courthouse. 

In addition, I did not include individual skyscrapers (such as The Pinnacle at Symphony Place and Icon in the Gulch), as those type buildings have been constructed in multiple cities and, as such, are not distinctive in a strict sense. The one exception, obviously, is Signature Tower, as very few cities our size will ever get such a building. Signature would have been highly distinctive and its failure to rise still pains me to this day. The building would have been an icon.

Also note the list includes nothing on any university campus — despite some impressive additions either finished or underway at Belmont, Lipscomb, Meharry and Vanderbilt.

Basically, I limited the list to either fairly or very unusual projects — often multi-building in nature.

Here we go.

Failed to Happen  (9)

Cumberland Yacht Harbor

Signature Tower 

Nashville Sounds/Struever Bros. project at Thermal site

H20 Urban Waterfront District 

Neuhoff site 

Pantheon Park

May Town Center

Nashville Medical Trade Center

The Streets of Brentwood (Note: Though it would have been located in a suburban area, TSofB would have been extremely urban in its design and function and, as such, could have sent an important message to the general region. So I included).

Yet to Happen and with, Seemingly, a Minimal Chance of Materializing (3)

The Project Nashville Skyline entertainment complex, to be anchored by an IMAX Theater at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds

Strings (Travis Kelty's proposed guitar-shaped office tower)

The Museum of African American Music

Yet to Happen but with a Strong Chance of Materializing (3)

Northwestern Mutual Real Estate Service North Gulch site

One City

West End Summit (I include given this will be a highly unusual three-tower project)

Yet to Happen and Remaining a Question (3)

Bus Rapid Transit line connecting the city's east and west sides

Nashville Sounds stadium

Thermal site amphitheater

Materialized (2)

Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Hill Center Green Hills 

Materialized but Questionable  as to Whether Meeting the Criteria of this List (3)

Omni/Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame expansion (This one was worth considering for inclusion in the "Materialized" category given it involves a speciality museum. However, the hotel is not a "distinctive" project in the strict sense and the bulk of the museum already existed. So I did not include)

Belle Meade Town Center (with Harris Teeter, the Marquee and Belle Meade Court)

Hill Center Belle Meade (anchored by Publix)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Creating Places: Work begins on Gulch high-rise

Workers were spotted today toiling at the Gulch site on which Ray Hensler's long-awaited luxury apartment building will rise. Some men installed erosion barriers, while others (from what I could tell) were attending to utility work. I have to say I was very pleased to see the activity, as the tower (not sure if it will be called Laurel Street Apartments or The Mondrian) once finished might rank among the city's 15 or so most attractive buildings — at least in terms of exterior design — of 200 feet or taller.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Creating Places: SoBro police precinct

Another missed opportunity? What modest hope I entertained of Metro's planned central police precinct being a public building of architectural noteworthiness was quickly dashed upon my seeing for the first time the below rendering. There is nothing about this building that says "civic structure." Yes, it's sleek and clean-lined, and I'm sure it will be energy-efficient and offer a useful interior. The building might even deliver a little quirkiness as it will be wedged between the NES substation that fronts Sixth Avenue (seen in the image on the far left and with the lime hint) and the south sidewalk of Korean Veterans Boulevard. I also think I'll like the metal elements. All well and good.

Still, the exterior of the building is excessively bland, lacking definition, a clear entrance, and the type verticality that the south side of KVB so badly needs. In fairness, the architect (Moody Nolan) had minimal physical space to work with (for example, the building's side that will face Sixth will be no more than about 35 feet wide). I would also suppose the design budget was no more substantial than this writer's knowledge of commercial country music.

So with those limitations, I'll try to be optimistic and hope the police precinct building, upon its completion, will grade at least a C-plus (if not a B-minus).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Creating Places: Encore shines with black awnings

I continue to maintain — much to the displeasure of those readers of this blog site who want more substantive posts — that it is often the "little touches" that, collectively, can make a huge impact on the public realm. 

Case in point: Encore's new black awnings.

Check this photo courtesy of my good friend, and built environment madman, Ron Brewer.

Now compare the black awnings — and how they nicely meld with the blue-tinted glass and light gray concrete —  to the red, green and blue awnings that previously pockmarked Encore.

The black awnings offer a uniform, sleek and cosmopolitan vibe. Conversely, the multi-colored awnings delivered a garish and hodgepodge aesthetic that rendered a slightly Crayola crayon effect. As a resident of Encore, I am, admittedly biased. But the improvement is significant, both for the building and for this particular pocket of SoBro. 


Monday, February 4, 2013

Creating Places: A map for the map nerds

As a long-time "map geek" (my brother, father and I used to collect maps, at one point amassing a few hundred maps and almanacs), I am very pleased to see what my good friend Ron Brewer has created. I posted this on Nashville Post but didn't want any Creating Places readers who might not visit the Post site often to miss. Check it out here.