With each passing year, the architecture of a city changes. Buildings come and go. Think about it. How has the built environment in the area surrounding your own neighborhood or workplace changed in the past few years? This month, as Memphis magazine continues to reflect on its 25-year history, we thought it appropriate to consider how the architecture of our city has changed during that period. What are the outstanding design achievements, whether new construction or a renovation, that have made an impact on the city? And who better to comment on this changing cityscape than some Memphis architects? We asked each of them to name some design achievements from the last quarter century. There wasn't enough space to list all of their choices, but we've highlighted a few. Is your favorite among them?
J. Carson Looney, FAIA
Looney Ricks Kiss
"The renovation of The Peabody (1981, McFarland & Associates) marked the turning point for downtown, which, by the late '70s, was headed to the pits." says Looney. "Such a major commitment as The Peabody established a precedent in people's minds. This turning point signaled that it was okay to give a shot at the rebirth of downtown. Smaller projects that might never have taken off did so, all because of The Peabody, the Belz family, and then-director of the Center City Commission, John Dudas. The Belzes brought The Peabody back with such energy and commitment that it could not help but spill over into other areas of downtown.
"The Peabody is of its time, the late 1920s. It was the benchmark for hospitality, not just in Memphis but throughout the Mid-South. The Belz family did an excellent job. They did not go into the project with the intention of making the space "modern." Instead, their renovation plan drew from the beauty of the original structure-and more importantly, the beauty that was in the public's mind, and the emotional attachment that people had toward the building.Ê
"A great piece of architecture and great interiors do not always make for a great place, a place people love. It's how the hotel is operated-and The Peabody is a first-class hotel. But it's not just a hotel - it has become what it was historically-a destination."
Lee Askew, FAIA
Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects Inc.
Lee Askew had a theory about buildings. "Buildings that start out as aliens often become icons," he says. He cites as an example I.M. Pei's glass pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris that at first outraged some Parisians but now has quickly become a revered part of the landscape. Askew describes The Pyramid (1991, Rosser Fabrap) as one of the more not-able structures in Memphis that he feels is destined to become another icon. "The Pyramid is significant because of its function and shape, and its siting on the north bluffs," he says.Ê
Jack Tucker, FAIA
Jack R. Tucker Jr. & Associates Architects
Jack Tucker, a veteran of downtown renovations and restorations, nevertheless looked to East Memphis when naming one of his favorite architectural projects. The Crescent Center at Poplar and Ridgeway (1986, Nathan Evans Pounders Taylor), he says, is appealing because of its subtle curve, its materials, and the fact that the design "looks at itself." He notes that while the interior architecture of many office buildings can be predictable - in that the use dictates the design of the interiors - The Crescent Center's exterior exceeds expectations on a major scale.
James Williamson, AIA
Williamson Pounders Architects, PC
The impact of AutoZone Park (2000, Looney Ricks Kiss) on the growth of downtown cannot be overemphasized, says architect James Williamson. "The park has been a real shot in the arm to downtown from a social and cultural point of view," he says. "Now people are coming down here for recreational purposes." Williamson also praised the design of the ballpark that opens to the street so passersby "can get a real sense of what's going on inside." He describes the plaza in front as "a generous civic gesture."Ê
Williamson also singled out the Auto-Zone headquarters building (1995, Looney Ricks Kiss), that faces Front Street on the east and the river on the west. "The scale of the east side complements the adjacent Cotton Row warehouses, while the curving glass wall on the west side speaks to the curving nature of the Mississippi."
The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art's addition (1989, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill; Askew, Nixon Ferguson and Wolfe), says Williamson, is "extremely successful in that the architects were able to create a new main entrance without covering up or insulting the original, which dates from 1916. The museum's new rotunda has become, in effect, its new entrance."
Greg Hnedak, FAIA
Hnedak Bobo Group
Greg Hnedak views the Harbor Town (1989, Looney Ricks Kiss) development as a remarkable achievement whose appeal extends beyond the architecture. "It provides a different lifestyle downtown than just high-rise living, and I hope it helps to bring people back to the city," he says. The architect adds that the choice of neotraditional architecture for Harbor Town was a logical one, appealing to people who want such designs as porches and houses set close to the street - features that increase the sense of neighborhood.
The architect, who himself has lived in Harbor Town for several years, says he also enjoys the neighborhood feeling that is created by Harbor Town's commercial district. "Having a store like Miss Cordelia's where you can buy staples like milk, being able to walk to a cash machine, a dry cleaner, a coffee shop where you can read a newspaper or a book - that's part of the appeal. There's even a day spa where you can get a massage."
"Also, part of the draw is the diversity of people who live in Harbor Town," says Hnedak, "which is racial to some degree but also economic." He points out that Harbor Town housing types range from apartment rentals to high-end residences. "This is one of Harbor Town's strengths that makes it such an appealing place to live," he says.
"If you had told me 25 years ago, that I would be able to walk from my home to nearby stores, that I would be living in a house downtown that rivals any house in East Memphis, I would think you were dreaming," Hnedak says. "Now I can look out my living room window and have a view of a pond. If I had to leave, I don't know where I would go to find anything to compare to Harbor Town."
[This story originally appeared in Memphis magazine.]