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, January 31, 2013

Creating Places: Good-bye, Mr. Hull

It pains me to write this but I must: Barring an unforeseen miracle, the Cordell Hull State Office Building will be demolished.

This is no prediction. It is, rather, the reality. Indeed, I've had discussions the last few days with folks close to the situation and Hull's future looks grim. The State of Tennessee still must determine what it will cost to raze the clean-lined modernist structure, but the wrecking ball awaits.

Given various factors, it is almost unfathomable that this will happen. This city already has lost too many wonderful buildings. Plus, you would think the state would have properly maintained the structure to avoid its deterioration. The Hull building (see the previous post for an aerial photo) may be no Hume-Fogg High School or Union Station, but it is a very attractive civic building. As important, it comprises a quartet of structures that beautifully frames the grand Tennessee State Capitol. Once Hull is gone, the effect will be much like that of an otherwise attractive person who is missing a tooth.

Placing some phone calls to determine what might happen, I learned that it is all but certain Hull will not be saved so as to house, for example, the Tennessee State Museum. I also learned the state apparently plans to keep the land — with a green space the likely replacement for Hull.

At this point in the post, I could attempt to deliver a pithy comment or barbed zinger lambasting the state. But I'll refrain. I just don't have it in me. Maybe I should not be so upset about something most folks would contend is trivial in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps I should focus my emotional energy upon interests for which I have more control. Some might say I need "to get a life." But my passion for places and place-making began more than 40 years ago and I can't simply ignore this fact. In short, I cherish attractive cities, and stately civic buildings are a key to that attractiveness.

During the past 50 years or so, downtown Nashville has lost so many of its fine-grained historic masonry buildings that what modest charm it still retains is based, in large part, on large-scale civic buildings like those found on Capitol Hill. Raze the Hull Building and not only will the Hill never be the same but another layer of downtown's already limited architectural appeal will be forever stripped away.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Creating Places: Hull, Sevier buildings face uncertainty

The news was enough to relieve my stomach of a snack of granola, raisins, almonds and peanut butter. Earlier today, a good friend called to note state employees working in the Cordell Hull Building (seen at left below in an image courtesy of Google Maps) were planning to move and that the modernist building eventually might be demolished. I cobbled together a basic story, verifying that the personnel moves seemingly are looming and the building's fate is very uncertain (read more here).

It is no secret four state office buildings (including the art deco John Sevier State Office Building next to Hull) face very tentative futures. Check this Chattanooga Times Free Press story for a nice overview. However, many folks are now wondering if those buildings actually might be razed.

I'm cautiously optimistic neither Hull nor Sevier will face the wrecking ball. Were such a drastic move announced, the outcry would be deafening, as the two architectural gems beautifully frame the east side of Capitol Hill. Both represent the type timeless civic structures that, sadly, we don't see constructed much nowadays. To lose either would be tragic.

I'll keep you posted as I learn more.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Creating Places: My type of building Part 5

Take a look at the Vanderbilt Student Life Center, located on 25th Avenue across from Memorial Gymnasium on the VU campus. This is a fine example of a contemporary building that should age  well (unlike some other 21st Century structures, whose experimental aesthetics suggest outdatedness will loom sooner rather than later). With the VU SLC, the width-to-height proportionality is well executed, as is the limestone-and-glass combination. Also, note at center right a nice touch with the window forms that contrast with those on the left. The Nashville firm Gilbert | McLaughlin | Casella Architects designed this handsome building and earns a solid B-plus for its efforts.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Creating Places: A small city in name only

Courtesy of the classy skyline photo master Bill Cobb, check this photo of Reading, Pa. (linked here and seen below with a larger version when clicked upon). I can't recall if I've ever seen an aerial shot of Reading (or any photo of the city, for that matter), so my frame of reference is limited. But this is an outstanding image. Of note, the City of Reading covers a mere 10.1 square miles and offers a population of 88,000 (as of the 2010 Census count). That is an almost astounding 8,700 people per square mile, which explains the impressive building density shown in this photo.  For comparison, Murfreesboro, Tenn., has about 111,000 folks within its 39 square miles of city limits (about 2,846 people per square mile).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Creating Places: My type of building Part 4

It is no secret this built environment enthusiast generally prefers darker brick to lighter brick. A fine example of a building clad in handsome brick color tones is The Glen, the DA|AD designed condo structure that sits on the northeast corner of the 18th and Wedgewood avenues intersection. There are multiple characteristics of The Glen that I find attractive, with the building's overall clean windows-to-doors-to-balconies symmetry and its effective height-to-width proportionality perhaps the most noteworthy. Regarding the balconies, notice they are inset (almost always a good thing as opposed to "tacked on" to a surface) and offer tasteful metal railings.  Though very smallish in this image (courtesy of Google Streetview), the light fixtures framing the stair-stepped entrances are a very classy touch. Also note the base of The Glen features a brick darker than that of the main section, with the two segments discretely "divided" by a linear concrete (it might even be stone) piece.  I even like the little beige squares (seen here on the left section of the building and to the left and right of the top corners of the second-level windows), as they contrast with the darker brick and add a subtle flourish. Grade: A-minus.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Creating Places: New police precinct

Here is a rendering of the proposed Metro Police Department Central Precinct building, slated to be built on the south side of Korean Veterans Boulevard next to the NES substation (on the left in this image) and hugging Seventh Avenue South (to the right of the structure in the image). I will weigh in with my thoughts by Thursday as the night is getting late and the sleep-inducing strains of Thomas Newman's The Debt soundtrack are making me drowsy. Until then, I'm curious to get the thoughts of those dedicated few who visit this site. Feel free to offer your take.

Creating Places: My type of building Part III

Below is a photo of the Belmont United Methodist Church addition (completed a few years ago) that houses a gym and other activity spaces. I like the combination of the circular windows and the rectangular spaces created by the squared columns and that allow window views. The limestone and brick combo is nice too. On the brick theme, note the lighter brick on the facade (which faces 21st Avenue) and the darker brick on the side of the building that fronts the side walkway. A very nice touch. Indeed, this building shows an attractive blend of traditional and contemporary elements. Nashville-based Gilbert | McLaughlin | Casella Architects (a very underrated firm) designed this tasteful structure. See more images at the firm's website.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Creating Places: A space without greenery

The below photo reveals one of the most harsh — yet strikingly visually arresting — hardscapes found within Nashville's central business district. I took the photo standing near the sidewalk at Charlotte Avenue and with the Rachel Jackson and Andrew Jackson buildings on my right and left, respectively, in the foreground. In the background is the underrated Nashville City Center (with its First Tennessee signage) and a sliver of the dark-glass-clad James K. Polk Office Building, which I once found appealing yet now consider a semi-abomination (with its poorly defined entrance, odd cap and brutalized street-level forms). Cold and uninviting, this off-the-beaten path portion of downtown somehow manages to lure me toward its cavernous form any time my exercise walks find me within its vicinity.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Creating Places: My type of building Part II

Here is another fine example of the type exterior design I would like to see for future Nashville buildings. Blaine Bonadies, a local man, designed the residential structure, which is located in the 3600 block of West End Avenue next to Blakemore United Methodist Church. Note the dark brick, the vertical windows and the slightly stair stepped roof line — all very tasteful touches. The building nicely melds both traditional and contemporary elements.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Creating Places: My type of building Part I

I have done a poor job with this blog site, at times, of accurately describing the type contemporary buildings — regarding forms, materials, massings and color schemes — I would like to see in Nashville. Often, I have used terms such as "feminine," "impermanent," "flimsy," etc. to describe area structures that lacked ruggedness and a sleek and/or slightly industrial vibe. On this theme, I found an image (see below) of a residential building in Madrid, Spain, that nicely illustrates the type smaller buildings I would like to see for Nashville as the city moves into this decade. The structure (a name for which I could not determine) is not without its flaws. In particular, the base lacks a clearly defined entrance. Still, this is cool building. It reminds me, ever so slightly, of one of my favorite small urban buildings in Nashville: Laurel House Apartments (visit this site for a nice image of that underrated Gulch mixed-use structure).

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Creating Places, 2013 Preview, Part II

With the weekend winding down and the soothing musical strains of Stanze, the atmospheric semi-masterpiece by Ludovico Einaudi and Cecilia Chailly, as a backdrop, I offer a few more quick hits regarding projections for Nashville's manmade environment in 2013.

*  I am greatly anticipating SWH Residential Partners' releasing of a rendering for the apartment building it plans to develop at Rolling Mill Hill (read more here). If the building is to offer some neo-art deco touches (as SWH has considered), it could be a stellar addition to the Hill. SWH Managing Partner John Tirrill is a class gentleman who lives in Atlanta but spends a good bit of time in Nashville, in which he grew up. Interestingly, Tirrill's grandfather years ago worked at the old Metro General Hospital, two former buildings for which are now residential structures (the Victorian and the Art Deco) at RMH.

* Southern Land's proposed mixed use project to anchor the southeast corner of the Hillsboro and Richard Jones roads T-intersection is slated to start by mid-year. The project should be the most urban — in its orientation, height, massing and mixture of uses — Green Hills has ever seen (even more so that the nicely executed Hill Center). Nashville Ledger has an interesting cover story about the project in this week's edition. Click here to read.

* A few folks have asked me recently if I think H.G. Hill Realty Co. will announce a major project for its site at Charlotte and 40th avenues (currently home to a car wash and a lot of dead space). I don't foresee it. The company will be very busy with its 12South Flats development and projects in Brentwood, Hillsboro Village and Midtown (with the building formerly home to The Great Escape).

*  There remains continued speculation Alex S. Palmer & Co. will land InterContinental Hotel for its twin-tower West End Summit site, thus necessitating a third high-rise. The two parties signed a deal in 2006 but much has changed since then. This one seems 50-50.

* Lastly, I predict the Metro Art Commission will select Christian Moeller to handle the massive art piece that eventually will punctuate the KVB Roundabout. I have no insider info, so this is just a hunch. Check Moeller's work here.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Creating Places: 2013 Preview, Part I

There is much to look forward to regarding changes to Nashville's built environment this year. With that theme in mind — and as the haunting and atmospheric sounds of Thomas Newman's brilliant Adjustment Bureau soundtrack tempt me with slumber — here are just a few thoughts about 2013.

* This could be the "year of the hotel." Currently being built and within no more than two miles from the central business district are, listed alphabetically, Fairfield Inn (the Gulch), Hyatt Place (SoBro), Homewood Suites (West End Corridor), Omni (SoBro) and two Marriott hotels (Midtown). Soon to start is a Hilton Garden Inn in SoBro, In addition, and just outside the I-440 loop, another Marriott is under construction in Bedford Commons in Green Hills. On tap to start by mid-year is hotel (the brand  has yet to be announced) at the Buckingham Cos. site in Midtown. That's nine hotels. If my woeful memory serves me, never will urban Nashville have had this number of hotels under construction at any given time during the last 20 years.

* On the hotel theme, I exchanged an email today with Rob Schaedle of Chartwell Hospitality, the developer of the Bedford Commons Marriott and the Hilton Garden Inn planned for SoBro. He wrote that demolition should begin very soon on the SoBro site.

* And continuing the hotel theme, many of us continue to wonder if Swerdling Associates will start work this year on a hotel at the Lower Broad site for which a Westin was planned years ago. Similarly, some have asked my thoughts regarding the hotel Giarratana Development would like to build at Molloy and Fourth in SoBro. I suppose the chances of the former starting this year are 50-50 (at best), while the chances of the latter doing likewise are much less certain. Having said that, I would truly like to see Tony Giarratana develop a hotel on the proposed site, which is currently home to a surface parking lot that Giarratana's Premier Parking operates.

* One of the best "neo-traditional" building to be completed in years within this city is the Randall and Sadie Baskin Law Center (see here), which opened earlier this year on the Belmont University campus. I predict the equivalent academic building (in terms of quality materials, workmanship and timeless aesthetic) that will open in 2013 will be the Kissam College Halls.

* Lastly, a major project that will take shape this year within the I-440 loop and about which I am only modestly excited: the Lentz Public Health Clinic (read more here). The building itself should look nice enough but it will be surrounded by a sea of nothingness. Also, I will lament the loss of the existing Lentz facility, which I consider a fine example of modernist architecture.

More to follow as we continue to look at what awaits in 2013 ...


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Creating Places: 2012 Highlights, Part II

A few more observations about Nashville's built environment highlights from the past year ...

* With the opening of Vista Germantown, the near completion of both Sixth & Garfield and The Square at Fourth and Madison (see image below), and the opening of Rolf & Daughters in a rehabbed space in Werthan Lofts, we might look back in a few years and say 2012 was the year Germantown/Salemtown began to zoom past Five Points and 12South as the city's second-most construction-intense mixed-use urban district (trailing only the Gulch). And more new infill is on the way, including Evergreen's project at Eighth and Hume (read more here), SWH's massive development at the Werthan site (read more here), Jim Creason's project at Fifth and Monroe (read more here), and Robin York's five-unit residential building slated for the southeast corner of Sixth and Garfield (read about here).

* West End Park continues to be transformed in an almost stunning manner. However, none of the infill structures of the past 10 years (I count at least 12 residential buildings of at least five units or more have been built) offers office or retail space. The district remains fully residential — and that is a bit disappointing. Word has it a retail space was planned for the under-construction West End Village (read more here). Obviously, that failed to materialize.

* With two major projects having started in late 2012, Eight Avenue South/Franklin Road continues to take shape. However, if the street is ever to be vibrant with pedestrians, it will need the following: 1. mixed-use buildings; 2. an "epicenter" of sorts (I supposed the so-called Antique District anchored by Zanies could be that center); and 3. sidewalks from the street's segment spanning the roughly one-half-mile stretch from Craighead to Gale.

* On the Eighth Avenue theme, the facade of 700 Wedgewood Park, which Peggy Krebs has developed at Wedgewood and Interstate 65 one block east of Eighth (read more here), is fairly attractive. But the sides and back are painfully bland. Seemingly, the building is almost finished.

* One of the most underrated developments of 2012 is Shoppes on Fatherland located in the general  Five Points area. Very nicely done.

Next up: A look at what is to come in 2013.