The announcement last week that a FirstBank branch eventually will operate from a one-story building constructed at a prominent Midtown intersection has since spurred some blistering criticism from the many place-making professionals and hobbyists I know.
Modest and boxy in its scale and detail, limited to a singular use, and featuring suburban-oriented elements such as surface parking, dual-street vehicular access and a towering pole sign, the overall project is insufficiently urban in scale and scope for the high-profile southeast corner of West End and 19th avenues, the critics contend.
West End is a prestigious street deserving of much more impressive buildings, they say. And West End intersections, in particular, need eye-catching structures that offer sharp definition.
Much like, for example, the nearby and towering Palmer Plaza would play awkwardly on Midtown side street Hayes Street, small, single-use structures are not ideal for the wide West End Avenue with its many attention-grabbing buildings.
Compounding the frustration of those with whom I have talked regarding the project is that the FirstBank building will sit catty-corner from a utilitarian one-story building home to an AT&T retail business (see here in an image courtesy of Google Maps) and next to the monstrosity that houses a Cookout (see here).
An opportunity was also missed in that a much more prominent building would have interacted nicely with the strikingly handsome structure home to Renasant Bank (see here) across West End from the FirstBank site.
At the least, those displeased with the design would have preferred something similar to the West End Avenue building that houses a First Tennessee branch (see here). That small structure combines shapes, forms and colors in a way that lends the street a bit of visual variety and definition that a basic box cannot.
Indeed, the critics — check this urbanplanet.org Nashville thread for some scathing comments and starting with post No. 1,746 — expect more for West End Avenue.
Similarly, folks I’ve talked to at the Metro Planning Department, Nashville Civic Design Center and various local land planning and architectural design firms do, too.
It is highly unlikely, however, that every future building added to the bustling stretch of West End from 16th Avenue to Murphy Road will be large-scale, cutting-edge and/or mixed-use. To expect such is no more realistic than to think this journalist might somehow be confused for the handsome, talented and wealthy George Clooney.
Given that reality, future West End Avenue buildings that are limited in scale and scope should be, at the minimum, interesting and distinctive.
The FirstBank building will be neither. True, it will be attractively clad in limestone with a contrasting dark granite base. And it will be appropriately positioned at the sidewalk. But such an understated and non-descript building would work just as effectively in the architecturally unadventurous Green Hills on, say Abbott Martin Road … oh, wait a minute, that building exists (see here).
Let’s be fair. FirstBank is a fine operation providing a needed service. The future structure will look vastly better than the hideous gas station building it will replace. And, of course, FirstBank’s focus is on providing top-notch financial services to its customers — and not on adding an architectural gem to Midtown’s manmade fabric. I get it.
But if bank officials are not going to provide a more noteworthy design, perhaps they will consider the following:
• Scrap the lower signage on the east face of the building fronting the surface parking lot. The upper sign is sufficient.
• On the signage theme, an approximately 25-foot tall pole sign is absurd. Such signage is to be expected from fast-food companies whose leadership simply cannot stomach the thought of a hungry motorist whizzing past their fry pits because pole signs aren’t visible. In contrast, FirstBank clients will know where this branch is.
Banks typically prefer to present a dignified and reserved image. Tacky pole signs suggest burger joints and adult businesses located along highways and interstate exits. (Check here to see an image of a 30-foot-plus-tall Chili’s sign that pockmarks West End.)
That noted, FirstBank officials could opt for a tasteful ground sign. A nice example, (recently constructed, too) can be found nearby at West End United Methodist Church.
• The FirstBank logo offers a very crisp and handsome blue hue that could be played upon in a cool manner. How about this: At night, bathe the building with eye-catching and correspondingly blue lighting.
• The vertical arch component on the West End side of the building appears to be (based on the image) out of scale with the height of the adjacent windows and the overall, and limited, height of the building. Seemingly exaggerated in its height, the arch itself suggests, and a bit awkwardly so, a pedestrian entrance that wants to be more noteworthy (and even slightly grand) than it actually will be. In addition, the height results in the signage above the arch and below the parapet appearing both compacted and disproportionately large related to its overall surface space.
A less tall arch might help. At the minimum, a smaller sign on the building’s surface is needed.
• Give the surface lot as much lush landscaping as possible.
• Lastly, take an honest approach when dealing with critics: “We acknowledge that many people feel this will not be a building befitting of what is Nashville’s most prominent street. But given various practical considerations, we decided to opt for this building and sincerely hope that the public, over time, will grow to find it both acceptable an perhaps even a tad underrated.”
(Images courtesy of FirstBank)
(The top image perspective is from 19th and West End avenues; the bottom, from West End Avenue.)
FirstBank has signed a lease for some high-profile new office space in Huntsville, following up on its announcement in March that it planned to expand its operations in North Alabama. FirstBank's lease adds to the mixed-use Twickenham Square project, which features apartments and retail spaces developed by Franklin-based Bristol Development Group. Triad Properties of Huntsville is building the area's office component.
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