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, March 31, 2013

Creating Places: Salemtown contemporary residence

The fast-changing North Nashville neighborhood of Salemtown features what must rank as one of the 50 most distinctive residences in Nashville.

Located near the northeast corner of the Seventh Avenue North and Hume Street intersection, the slender and slanted-roof house continues to elicit strong opinions — most of them negative from what little I've heard.

To be frank, I'm not a fan. Having said that, the home does offer some elements I find acceptable — and even interesting. For example, I like that the structure is more vertical than horizontal (though excessively so when seen from the perspective below). As many of you know, I prefer the so-called "cool colors" (cobalt blue, charcoal, black, silver, etc.), so the two-toned gray palette is fine. Relatedly, I like the way the darker gray gives the house a well-defined base.

As to the structure's exterior shortcomings, there are various examples, with the horizontal windows (such window orientation rarely works) being the most glaring. But beyond the specific design details of the home itself, the main problem is that the house is out of context given its surroundings feature mainly traditional homes. I suppose the developer might contend the architect took cues from the industrial-themed former Werthan Packaging facility located mere feet from the house. Fair enough.

Still, the house just seems out of place. Though it could shine if built in, say, the Gulch or SoBro, in the confines of historic North Nashville it fails to achieve full luster.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Creating Places: Hayes Street structure of note

Does anybody know the history of this Midtown building? Located in the 1700 block of Hayes Street, the structure (see below courtesy of Google Maps) sits catty-corner from the West End Summit site. There are multiple features I find attractive, with perhaps the main one being the pronounced eaves. I also like the light gray brick. I assume this was once a residential building. Now it accommodates offices. Any info is appreciated.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Creating Places: The Sheds on Charlotte

Last week's announcement regarding the planned The Sheds on Charlotte gave reason to be pleased. The deteriorating warehouses, located within the 2200 block of Charlotte Avenue, need new life, and this project (read more here) will provide just that.

On a sobering note, the street will lose the quirky and gritty modernist structure (see below in the right half of the photo courtesy of Google Maps) once home to the former Tennessee Department of Highways and Public Works (now TDOT), which the developer and its engineers contend is structurally unsound.

The reality today is that we may have to accept the fact that adaptive reuse of some buildings will involve their partial demolition (or, in this case, the razing of an adjacent structure). On this theme, I was hoping Alex S. Palmer & Co. could have saved the now-gone handsome masonic lodge and incorporated it within the West End Summit project.

In contrast, Ed Fulcher and his development team are fusing the former Melrose Theater strip center with new residential construction, thus showing such adaptive reuse can be done with certain projects.

Another example of sparing at least a segment of a historic building while adding new construction can be found in Midtown Memphis on Union Avenue. Specifically, a portion of the exterior of a vintage church building (in bottom photo courtesy of Google Maps) was kept, nicely concealing some surface parking that accommodates the fast food eatery. (I'll refrain from taking pen to paper and slamming a society that allows for a grand church building to be razed so that an environmentally unfriendly asphalt surface parking lot can be paved for motorists lustily desirous of feasting on fat-laden junk.)

Much like with the Memphis project, it would have been cool if Sheds on Charlotte developer Holladay Properties could have at least saved the facade of the TDOT building. Still, the developer is to be commended for its fascinating reuse of the warehouses. With a loss comes a victory.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Creating Places: More tidbits

A few random musings as the music of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fills my tiny living quarters ...

*  I'm not sure what to think about the exterior of the radically reinvented building located on the southeast corner of Eighth Avenue South and Division Street and home to Pour House. (Check some photos here.) On the one hand, there is an industrial hint that I find appealing. In contrast, I detect a "children's treehouse meets giant Lincoln Logs creation" vibe that is jarring. That said, I hear the interior vibe — and beer selection — is stellar. In fact, I see Pour House has Schlafly kolsch on tap. So I need to make my first visit soon.

* The "cap" for the Music City Center convention facility is now being lit at night. Very tasteful.

* One of the most eye-catching building exteriors of recent addition is that of The Filling Station in 12South. Check this mural (taken from The Filling Station Facebook page) on the structure's west wall:

Monday, March 11, 2013

Creating Places: Tidbit time

Random thoughts as the soft strains of Bohren & Der Club of Gore elicit drowsiness...

* Look for Vanderbilt's College Halls at Kissam — currently under construction at West End and 21st avenues — to be one of Nashville's five most impressive architectural additions to be completed in 2013. Check here for time lapse peg's. And the other four... Perhaps this quartet, ranked in alphabetical order: Elliston 23, Fifth & Garfield, Hillsboro Row and the Music City Center.

* Work is progressing rapidly on the retrofit of Hill Realty's building formerly home to The Great Escape and located at the Broadway and Division split. I have high hopes for this project.

* Note 16 is open and the commons areas are quite nice (I've yet to see an actual unit). As to the exterior design, the soaring steps straddling the building's center facade are excessively out of scale. I'll take a photo soon.

* I'm not a fan of the new-look exterior of the Belmont Boulevard building home to PM.

* An example of buildings with exteriors that were basically outdated almost immediately after their completion: those home to the Nashville Farmers Market.

* Michael Roos' hyper-contemporary The Square at Fourth and Madison is looking stellar.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Creating Places: Midtown's future

My recent City Paper piece on Midtown has spurred some folks to solicit my opinions of the area's future prospects. 

Here are some thoughts. (And check the stellar photo, seen below — click for enlarged view — courtesy of Nashville-based Aerial Innovations.)

I have a personal interest in Midtown in that 1. My father once worked in the building home to the Hutton Hotel; 2. I once worked in a building on 17th; and 3. I once lived on Louise (off Elliston Place and on the fringe of Midtown — though some would say in the heart of Midtown).

The article posited the hypothetical situation of some property owners having unrealistic views of their properties' worth and, as such, not being willing to sell. Yes, this could be a problem But I don't foresee property owners collectively thwarting Midtown's progress in that many will be offered very nice prices to sell their parcels and they won't be able to say "no." On this theme, XMi Commercial — as the article noted — is involved  in some manner with multiple Midtown parcels and the XMi team "gets it." That company will help lead the redevelopment effort. Overall, Midtown simply has too much potential to not grow rapidly — even if a few unrealistic, unmotivated or greedy landowners don't want to sell and/or develop their own sites. No doubt, WES will spur growth, as will the BRT line (if that materializes). 

I frequently drive (and sometimes walk) the Midtown streets to get a feel for how this reinvention could all unfold, and I have concluded the potential is very strong. The district has a gridded street pattern, more than enough quality retail shops, restaurants, white-collar operations, health care entities, etc., to give developers incentive to add to the mix. It also offers the type large tracts of land that are either empty or that can be assembled and that lend themselves to new development (e.g., WES and the Buckingham Cos. project) with on-site structured parking (critical to the district's long-term health).

I've spent a decent amount of time in Atlanta's Midtown, and there are some similarities in terms of function (not form, obviously, as Midtown Atlanta might as well be Manhattan compared to Midtown Nashville). Midtown Atlanta transformed from about 1980 to 2000. 

In 15 to 20 years, I believe Midtown Nashville will do likewise.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Creating Places: Mural job

Video post-production business Storyville Post has commemorated its seventh anniversary of doing business at Cannery Row with a mural. Housed in the building from which Plumgood Foods once operated, Storyville instantly — and effectively — defined itself courtesy of the large and colorful art work, located on the east wall of the building. This photo, courtesy of Ron Brewer (the moderator for's Nashville chapter and a man who rarely overlooks changes, no matter how subtle, to the city's built fabric) nicely reveals the creation. Drive or walk Eighth Avenue (one block south of the MCC Roundabout) and take a look.