Days after Nashville celebrated the future of one downtown building, the city is now considering demolishing four historic buildings that were damaged during the Christmas Day bombing.
Property owners of 170, 172, 174 and 176 Second Avenue North submitted a letter to Metro’s Planning Department, Codes and Historical Commissions to request approval for controlled demolition, based on engineering analysis that concluded the buildings were an “imminent safety concern.”
“It’s really, really a sad day when we finally realize, ‘OK, we got to do what we got to do before it hurts somebody,'” said David Johnston, an architect with STG Design who has been investigating the four buildings. “We don’t know when these buildings are going to fall down.”
Demolition was the last resort. But the architects suggested they could seize this opportunity to build cleaner and more resilient structures, which is important in the context of climate-fueled risks and future sustainability standards.
“It would be great to go back and make these buildings more energy-efficient, allow them to last longer, keep the water out, keep the heat in, all of those kinds of things, but make it fit with the architecture that’s already there,” Johnston said.
Achieving an aesthetic balance with the block’s current facades might become a touchy subject, but Nashville’s historic zoning and downtown code should require developers to design with appropriate care, according to Ron Gobbell, who is helping coordinate the rebuild efforts.
“Anything they do will have to be reviewed in that context. So the rhythm of the street, the scale of what they build back, the materials and all of that, will be subject to review,” Gobbell said.
And there could be a creative way to incorporate the salvaged 100-year-old bricks and wood into future designs.
The architects also believe demolishing and rebuilding from scratch will be faster, as it’s “painstakingly slow” to dig through rubble one shovel at a time, Johnston said, though there could be more hurdles in the approval processes.
There could also be an opportunity to memorialize the now-infamous site with thoughtful design. Directly across the AT&T building, the low brick building at 170 Second Avenue North could be turned into a pedestrian connection to First Avenue.
“There’s a way to memorialize what really happened without putting a big neon sign saying, ‘This is where it happened,’” Johnston said. “It’s kind of a subtle but architectural way that we can memorialize the craziness that happened on Christmas.”
This could also help with efforts to redevelop First Avenue and the riverfront, as the success of this rebuild project will largely be determined by community activity, according to Gobbell.
“The best thing for this street is strong, viable businesses. If you have a very viable boutique hotel, it helps everything around it,” Gobbell said. “There’s a lot of upside to this even if we have to go down this path.”