Architectural Harmonizing 

A new symphony hall has the chattering classes in an excitable mood. Accustomed to remaking downtown over the last decade—Second Avenue and Lower Broadway rehabilitation, joined by a new arena, library, football stadium, a future pedestrian bridge, the new Gateway Boulevard and so on—Nashville’s planners and architects have something else to add to the mix.

But where to site a new symphony hall to make it harmonious with the rest of downtown?

At the Nashville Civic Design Center, planners are asking the same question. While symphony officials ultimately will make the decision, the center has been asked to evaluate the sites. It’s looking at a list of five or six locations that symphony executives presented; it also suggested a site or two on its own. We’re not worried that the symphony will choose a rotten spot, but we’d like to voice our favorites anyway.

The location at the foot of the Shelby Street Bridge, where a fire hall is currently located, is a natural. It has so many advantages. With the new Country Music Hall of Fame, the arena and the Hilton Suites hotel already there, a new symphony hall would complete the enclosure of the park that now sits in the middle. The park would give the new hall a front yard, providing the opportunity to showcase a dramatic architectural envelope. The hall’s location next to the Hall of Fame would make a bold statement about this city’s commitment to music of all kinds.

A new hall there also would rest at the foot of the soon-to-be-completed Shelby Street pedestrian bridge, which crosses the river to Adelphia Coliseum. The message: “We love football. And we love classical music.” A renaissance city, indeed.

The location is so perfect that, at some level, it may lack a sense of challenge. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts was an ambitious conversion of a post office to a museum. The Country Music Hall of Fame selected its site when the area was just a bunch of pencil sketches on legal pads. So putting the symphony hall at the fire hall site may not be a bold planning gesture. On the other hand, it certainly would complete the picture.

Siting the symphony hall on the future Gateway Boulevard, where the street will intersect with Fifth Avenue South, would represent more adventurous planning. Such placement would give instant civic character to the new thoroughfare. The symbolism also works. Viewed from Church Street, Fifth Avenue would unroll like a carpet of arts and entertainment, making a stately progression by the vernacular red brick of the Ryman, past the architectural drama of the arena and Country Music Hall of Fame, terminating at the symphony’s new home.

Meanwhile, we’re less enamored with another site—Rolling Mill Hill, the riverside land south of the thermal plant, including the city’s old Metro General Hospital. Someday, the city-owned property will be developed to include many residential units and, hopefully, a variety of retail.

A symphony hall there would plop too big a box onto the hill. The Acropolis of Athens may spring to mind, but then the Athenians didn’t need lots of parking, which, in this case, could eat up much of the hill’s residential potential.

As we review the list, we prefer the Sobro (South of Broadway) sites. Meanwhile, we are excited for the symphony and eagerly await its new home.


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