On occasion, a small group gathers at Mulligan's Pub downtown to quaff Irish stout and discuss matters related to Nashville’s built environment.
These fine folks — their ranks including various professionals, hobbyists and even a chap with a distinctive facial hair type — originally met via Nashville Charrette, an on-line message board for planning, architecture, development and urban issues.
Charrette members enjoy a genuine camaraderie, always helpful when spirited disagreement entices , for example, a skyscraper-loving forum participant to "message slam" — or douse with Guinness — those who proudly call themselves "shorties" (proponents of small, mixed-use buildings).
With preliminary work on SoBro's approximately $600 million Music City Center fully underway, the Charrette members have rallied around a common grassroots cause: TheMCCProject.com. The Website offers 3D computer model images, and many local heavy hitters have signed the site’s petition seeking a high-quality convention center design. It’s impressive stuff created, in part, to ensure that Metro officials understand there are high expectations for the next convention center.
A key feature of the group’s proposed design model is the placement of the main convention hall below ground and lit by skylights. Such a positioning would allow designers to create an energy-efficient "green roof" public plaza framed by buildings housing public spaces and accessed by pedestrian thoroughfares.
In addition, the conceptual drawings show a "wrap" of multi-story buildings containing retail and residential spaces around the perimeter of the site, while maintaining the corridors of Sixth and Seventh avenues as pedestrian streets leading into the interior plaza and its shops and cafés.
Nashville Charrette stalwarts Cliff Lippard and Nathaniel R. Walker coordinate TheMCCProject.com. The former lives and works in downtown Nashville; the latter toils as an architectural historian and designer for a Virginia firm but, as a native Nashvillian, can pontificate on this city's public realm with the ease Edgar Allen Poe exhibited penning stories of the macabre.
Always opinionated, Walker describes the Sommet Center and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as "architectural failures" due to each having "one face and three backsides."
"As if they were designed to be erected on a stage for a bit of musical theater, or on the set of a low-budget science fiction film, the buildings are given one façade that relates to their [surroundings] and three that have the ambience of the back of a service station," Walker said.
Walker strongly favors timeless architecture, while Lippard is receptive to both traditional and contemporary forms. But, both contend the study is not so much focused on stylistic details but rather on basic concepts involving the future center’s massing, materials and integration within its larger context.
"I don't have a problem with a cutting-edge or high-tech design, but we can't have a monolithic, windowless block plopped down in the heart of SoBro," Lippard said.
Walker adds, "If we build the new Music City Center with shoddy materials, a lack of detail, in random and incoherent forms, and out of dead, externally useless walls, then we will have everything that is wrong with the existing convention center, only on a much larger scale: a world-class tourist storage facility."
Nashville deserves better.
We should commend The MCCProject.com for this effort.
William Williams is a citizen observer of Nashville's manmade environment. Contact him at email@example.com