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.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Creating Places: Musings on Nashville modernism

With demolition looming for the Hull, Ben West and the former Tennessee Department of Highways and Public Works buildings — and with talks circulating of eventually razing the Imperial House Apartments building and the four-building Carmichael Towers on the Vanderbilt campus — I chose three other Nashville modernist structures that, hypothetically, might be lost during the next 10 years or so. So that's eight buildings constructed during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s and that are typically underutilized and/or outdated — though not necessarily in need of a razing. What follows is a simple exercise in which I give two and then name my preference as to which should be saved.

Hull or Ben West? Save: Hull

Hull or Carmichael Towers? Save: Hull

Ben West or Carmichael Towers? Save: Carmichael Towers

Ben West or Imperial House? Save: Ben West

Imperial House or Carmichael Towers: Save: Carmichael Towers

Imperial House or Municipal Auditorium? Save: Municipal Auditorium

Municipal Auditorium or 401 Union (see here)? Save: Municipal Auditorium

401 Union or Ben West? Save: 401 Union

401 Union or Imperial House? Save: 401 Union

The former Tennessee Department of Highways building (see here) or Ben West? Save: Ben West

The former Tennessee Department of Highways building or Municipal Auditorium? Save: Municipal Auditorium

Vanderbilt University's Oxford House (see below) or Carmichael Towers? Save: Carmichael Towers

Oxford House or 401 Union? Save: 401 Union

Oxford House or Imperial House? Save: Oxford House

Oxford House or the former Tennessee Department of Highways building? Save: Oxford House

So based on my very simplistic approach, here is how I would rank the buildings based on their worthiness of being saved:

1. Hull
2. Municipal Auditorium
3. Carmichael Towers
4. 401 Union
5. Ben West
6. Oxford House
7. Tennessee Department of Highways building
8. Imperial House


  1. I could almost invert your entire list apart switching the TDOT building with Hull. Municipal needs to go.

  2. I like the MuniAud because of all the great times I had there as a young person enjoying concerts. So I'm very biased. I worked at the Imperial House and have fond memories of the old girl, but its location makes it, in my opinion, less worthy of saving than the other buildings. Still, I would like to see IHouse saved.

  3. I see no reason to demolish the Municipal Auditorium as it serves as a good venue for third-tier events, like wresting and graduations. Didn't some type of music related museum ink a deal with Metro to relocate into part of it last year?

    The Imperial House sits on low land near Richland Creek and is prone to flooding. It's been empty for years now and St. Thomas has found no use for it. It would not be missed.

    I have mixed views on Carmichael Towers. I love its bulk and height along West End Ave. but the towers are just plain ugly, in spite of being brick. I think Vanderbilt's Chancellor has already made his views known about the future of this prime piece of VU's campus. I just hope they replace Carmichael with something equally tall.

    The Cordell Hull building should definitely be saved and repurposed for another use.

    1. AMous,

      I agree with everything you wrote. The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum is set to take much MuniAuditorium space. I really like the MA. Feel same way about CTowers. Love the bulk, height and symmetry of the four. But they simply do not effectively address the street. Still, it's cool a city of our size has brick buildings of this size.