The Coliseum District

Civic Auditorium and Coliseum, Knoxville, October 2014

Civic Auditorium and Coliseum, Knoxville, October 2014

When the Urban Land Institute suggested that the Coliseum District needed to go forward as an area dominated by residential and mixed use development, some were surprised. The implication that the coliseum should not be a part of the future for the area surprised many, including me. Just John had already been thinking about the area and here are his thoughts on what needs to happen in this difficult section of downtown:

 

The neighborhoods east of the Parkway are a combination of lower-income housing and the Coliseum and its associated structures, and they have been reconfigured into ‘super blocks’ that further reduce permeability.

 

Google Map View of Coliseum Area

Google Map View of Coliseum Area

Satellite View of the Coliseum Area

Satellite View of the Coliseum Area

The ‘superblocks’ are certainly under-used–this area has more ‘built-in’ advantages than any other district near downtown.  Several huge parking garages in good condition sit unused 95 % of the time, and several empty sites await development and activation. (One of these sites, a 5-acre tract east of Hill Avenue, was recently purchased, but plans for it are unannounced).

Compared to all the controversy surrounding parking-access in downtown, these areas are ‘ready to go.’  In addition, the garages themselves are set back from the roadside, and stepped-back further at higher levels, which makes possible street-facing liner stores, restaurants, and other ‘activating’ features.  The surface lots for the Police Station and the Regions Bank there offer additional opportunities for development.

Howard Baker Jr. died in 2014. The road named after him could have a long and prosperous future. Unlike the streets of downtown to its west (including its own continuation, Church Street) it is wide, it has a tree-planted median, and it boasts generous and generally well-lit sidewalks. Its problems: it is five lanes wide; it has no parking on-street; and of course there is very little for a pedestrian or an on-street parker to do there most of the time. The first are easy:  reduce the lanes to three; add on-street parallel parking in the space, including street trees like the 100 Block of South Gay Street. The other is soluble, as well, though that will take additional efforts.

The part of East Summit Hill Drive between HOFA and Dandridge Avenue shares some of these advantages, though it is not as well lit.  East Hill Avenue is similarly appointed with wide street and sidewalk spaces. The development along these currently is mostly suburban-style office parks and low-income housing, all set far back from and not interacting with the streets.

Townview Drive is a U-shaped road partially encircling Green Elementary School. It is not parallel to any other road nearby, or even straight to the school it fronts. It separates the school from the housing and office parks nearby; no building interacts with it, except partially the school.

The east-west part of JWP, walled and bordered by Historic Preservation Drive, will never in its current form welcome walking or development, but it could be reconfigured as a multiway boulevard with relative ease. It already boasts a large hotel as well as a bank and the Hall of Fame itself, though it doesn’t interact with them in its current form. Integrating these into a walkable streetscape will provide opportunity for greater civic life and further development.

Honor Our Troops Drive is a one-block north-south street connecting Howard Baker Avenue and Historic Preservation Drive, east of a huge parking garage and west of a huge parking lot (for the police station further east). As such, it does nothing useful.

Networking the Super-blocks:

Honor Our Troops Drive should be continued northward to intersect Townview Drive (which itself should be straightened and made parallel to its neighbor streets); and continued southward to East Hill Avenue.

A parallel street should be constructed east of the coliseum, running southward to intersect the new James White Boulevard we discussed, and further to ‘Riverfront Way’ (the hotel access road is named); and additionally northward between two additional huge parking garages, as far as it can be taken.

A second parallel street would run just east of a forested tract owned by one of our local conservation groups, from Townview Drive to HBA at the police station. A cross street parallel to Howard Baker Avenue should run north of these garages–in fact, there is already an essentially-unused garage access road in the proper location.

Building the Amenities:

The forested tract in the center of this district is owned by a local conservation group, which is great. Green space is a wonderful amenity, for peace, solitude, shade, animal life, and cleaner local air.

As mentioned, much of the built environment in this district is suburban-style low-income apartment parks and office parks. However, the current trend in public housing assistance is toward integrating low-income residents within the larger community, rather than isolating and concentrating such hardship, so these apartment areas may not be long-lived. This vision-plan concentrates mostly on urban form and connection, rather than the specifics of urban use, but one could easily imagine these communities reconfigured as street-facing row-house or mid rise development, mixing market rate and subsidized residents’ housing without announcing the difference architecturally.

The two huge garages north of HBA are begging for addition. They are placed 40 to 50 feet back from the sidewalk at street level, and the first two stories have further step-backs. This space is ideal for retail/restaurant space. With ample rear-access parking already present, mid rise or even high rise housing could be built atop the garages.

Additional space is readily available for larger commercial needs–grocery store; Target-style store; Ikea; whatever is needed. An unused giant lawn sits to the west side of Honor Our Troops Drive; and there are additional large spaces east of the HOTD, surrounding the Suntrust Bank building south of HPD, and in a 5-acre tract east of East Hill Avenue. The first two are currently—you guessed it: parking lots !

Re-developed Coliseum District

Re-developed Coliseum District: Grey = Opportunities for Development

Section Summary:

The coliseum district has great fundamentals for redevelopment—good (modifiable) streets and sidewalks, and lots and lots of parking.  Re-integration of its superblocks, and innovative building upon parking garages, will allow this area to flourish.

 

Next:  North, West, and East–what’s left ?  Oh, yes, the south side of downtown.

 

Useful Links—Affordable Housing and Super-blocks.

http://www.nhc.org/media/documents/InclusionaryZoning.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inclusionary_zoning

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed-income_housing

http://www.mass.gov/hed/docs/dhcd/cd/aat/creativeapproaches.pdf

http://www.huduser.org/portal/periodicals/cityscpe/vol15num2/ch6.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_block

http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/pdf/ptfd_primer.pdf

http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTURBANTRANSPORT/Resources/Fang-Urban-Form-Pedestrians-Transit-5Dec2011.pdf

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/58810

Exactly What is Design Excellence and Do We Have It?

Denver Design over Rail Yard (Photo © SOM)

Denver Design over Rail Yard (Photo © SOM)

Business Dictionary.com defines architectural design as “Concept that focuses on the components or elements of a structure or system and unifies them into a coherent and functional whole, according to a particular approach in achieving the objective(s) under the given constraints or limitations.” It’s a pretty sterile definition and, depending on those “objectives,” and “limitations,” excellence may be difficult to attain. But just what is design excellence?

It’s a concept that the American Institute of Architects attempted to explain in 2012 when their committee produced a 79 page paper on the topic. The nutshell paragraph included these statements from some of the participants:

In an excellent work, said Bruder, “All the senses are alerted and nourished.” “A building should encourage us to look at the world from a different point of view.” Feiner defined excellent architecture as “an exemplary advancement for its time, with perceived lasting value for the ages.” Weinzapfel characterized excellent design as expressing “pride of place” and offering “a sense of delight.” A excellent work should not be “just an individual icon,” but show a connection with its place. The architect’s initial question, she said, should be “What does the place deserve?” For Wilson, fine architecture should be “multivalent, which is different from ambivalent.” The more you
see it, the more of its qualities you can “tease out.” Excellent architecture, he observed, takes “banal” requirements as a basis for something “momentous.” Feiner concluded that the final criterion should be “What is a keeper?”—not “What is acceptable?”

It’s the kind of thing that we generally know when we see it, but most of us who aren’t designers or architects would have a hard time articulating. We’d all agree the world needs more good design and our city needs more good design. The AIA distributes annual awards for design excellence. One example that caught my attention in the “urban” category was Denver’s adaptation of their rail yards to make it usable space. Sound familiar? It’s sometimes discouraging that projects other cities somehow make happen are considered too crazy for suggesting in our city.

There are some obvious local examples of good design we could point to, such as the Transit Center. We’d likely agree that most apartment complexes in the city suffer in the design department. But design includes small interior spaces and projects as well as the large eye-catching structures.

By at least one measure, Knoxville rocks the design world. Last summer the Tennessee chapter of the AIA distributed awards at a gathering of the organization in Nashville. A New Orleans-based jury studied the projects submitted from across the state and distributed fourteen awards. One might expect Memphis to carry the day, based on its size. Perhaps Nashville firms would have an advantage given they are the second largest city and the capital. Those theories would not be borne out in reality.

Knoxville firms won seven of the awards, Nashville won three and Memphis firms won four. How’s that for your Scruffy Little City? I was very curious just what these winning designs were and I suspect you are, too. The link above will give you great detail, but I’m going to give you the short version here. I’m using photographs from their site which, I suspect, were submitted from the local firms.

Vagabond Boutique (Photo by Jack Parker)

Vagabond Boutique (Photo by Jack Parker)

You may have seen the first winning design tooling down the highway. It’s a vehicle which doubles as a store, called the Vagabond Mobile Boutique and it won a Merit Award for Interior Design. I first saw it at Rhythm and Blooms and I have seen it several times in the massive surface parking lot beside the Bijou. The jury liked the “attention to detail in the design and fabrication,” as well as the concept itself. The winning design team is ForK Design, LLC.

BarberMcMurray Workspace in the Armature Building (Photo by Denise Retallack)

BarberMcMurray Workspace in the Armature Building (Photo by Denise Retallack)

The Award of Excellence in Renovation went to BarberMcMurray architects for their transformation of two floors of the Arnstein Building into their new work space. Praise from the jury came for the color design which includes a blue ribbon connector, green collaborative spaces and yellow spaces for studio areas. They also like the unifying impact of the added stairwell. Generally they liked the clean lines, sense of openness and sense of light. This is a space I’d appreciate an invitation to see. Anyone?

Haslam Music Center at UT (Photo by  Denise Retallack)

Haslam Music Center at UT (Photo by Denise Retallack)

A Merit Award for New Construction also went to BarberMcMurray in conjunction with Blankenship and Partners for their joint project in the planning and construction of the Natalie Haslam Music Center at the University of Tennessee. The jury noted that the project had “strong technical demands, a limited budget . . . and a challenging site.” They were “impressed that this design achieved LEED Gold.” They praised the facades and the contrast with the interior, plus the use of light. I need to ride the bike over to see this one.

Frugal Farmhouse (Photo Robert Batey Photography)

Frugal Farmhouse (Photo Robert Batey Photography)

An Award of Excellence in New Construction went to Curb architects for their work on the Frugal Farmhouse. The jury noted that, “every design move had multiple rationales: functional, cost-effective and compositional,” saying, “this presentation made a compelling conceptual argument for frugal design. . .”

Barrier Island House (Photo by Brandon F. Pace)

Barrier Island House (Photo by Bruce Cole www.brucecole.com)

Sanders Pace Architecture one an Award of Excellence in New Construction for a project located on Florida’s Intercoastal Highway called the Barrier Island House. The jury was impressed with, “the sense of tranquility and the way the interior spaces seemed to relate to the exterior.” They said, “Overall, this house demonstrated excellence in its response to its site, in its functionality, and in its sense of scale and details.”

Holston River House (Photo by Bruce Cole)

Holston River House (Photo by Bruce Cole)

Sanders Pace hit again with another Award of Excellence in New Construction for a home built in east Tennessee. The Holston River House was commended for, “the sensitivity in the way the architects responded to this unique site in East Tennessee. . . the building form seems to embrace the landscape, its views and orientation.” In praising the relationship of the interior to the exterior, the noted its “remarkable sense of place.”

Old Briar in West Tennessee (photo by Jeffrey Jacobs Photography)

Old Briar in West Tennessee (photo by Jeffrey Jacobs Photography)

Finally, Applied Research won an Award of Excellence for New Construction for their design of “Old Briar,” a new home on an eighty acre farm in west Tennessee. The jury noted that the new home, “consistently respects the landscape and the specific sense of place.” They were, “impressed with the sense of character in this design, which reinterprets elements of a farm vernacular.” They also noted that it is sustainable, “with details retained from reclaimed items.”

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Last night the East Tennessee Chapter of the AIA held its own annual awards. John Thurman, the current president of the group handled most of the duties and awards and recognition were given to a number of architects, several for the same projects that won them state awards. The Gold Medal Award went to John McRae for exhibiting a high degree of competence and integrity throughout his career. It’s their highest award.

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

 

A number of projects displayed on the wall had been voted on online for the Online People’s Choice Award and the assembled architects voted among them for the Chapter Choice Award. These awards provided the suspense for the night. I’ve pictured here a three others that I thought were pretty spectacular. The Shelton Group work space in the Jackson Central Building has been pictured on this blog before and I have to say it is amazing. It turns out, however, that the online voting and the chapter voting lined up behind the same project: Hicks Orthodonic in Lenoir City designed by Barber McMurray.

Candidate Projects for Awards at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Hicks Orthodonic Project, Winner at the East Tennessee AIA Chapter

Parkridge Home Tour 2014, Part Two

1619 Jefferson, Parkridge Home Tour, Knoxville, October 2014

Here's the second round of photographs from the excellent tour of Parkridge homes. I've had as much fun editing them as I had taking the tour, although it was a bit painful trimming the 115 photos down to around fifty. I hope you find some more you … [Continue reading]

An Afternoon of Beautiful Homes in Parkridge, Part 1 of 2

1616 Washington, Parkridge Home Tour, Knoxville, October 2014

The weekend was as beautiful as could be hoped for in late October in Knoxville. In other words, it was picture perfect. The dilemma was in choosing which events to pursue. Of course there was a pretty big football game, but there was much more. One … [Continue reading]

The Downtown Knoxville Week Ahead (10/26 – 11/1/14)

IMG_6312

If you see an event I've missed and you'd like to plug, please comment below or e-mail me (knoxvilleurbanguy@gmail.com) and I'll try to add it. The list may, accordingly, be expanded through the week. Staying true to the scope of the blog, I'll only … [Continue reading]