The reason that I’m on one is that I have been shaken back to reality concerning the current state of affairs downtown. The two most-read posts on this blog were very early ones on The Declining Standard of Downtown Building. I was not in a very good mood when I wrote those either, but it appears that I lost the fire in my belly and moved on to write about other concepts. Although I know better, it was as if the community recognition of how bad those buildings were would a put a stop to it happening again. It has just hit me like a ton of hot wings that while we have been singing kum-ba-ya around the Urban Design Challenge campfire*, not a damned thing has changed in the “real world”. This realization was brought on by a couple of specific projects-I can be explicit about one, for the other I will generalize.
For the first, we need look no further than the epicenter of downtown sub-urbanized architecture- Market and 4th. As we all know, Chili's set the bar low and established the first sub-urban building model in downtown since we began our comeback in the 1980’s. Applebee’s set the bar even lower by moving across the street and showing their ass to those entering downtown from our most prominent Riverfront gateway. We are now the proud new recipients of a building so sub-urban that it makes those two P’s-O-S look great.
I will admit that this one caught me off guard. I have noticed on-going construction at the site for some time. I was indeed happy about it since the building had not been well used since the Barber College left. It appeared to me that the crews were meticulously removing the homemade crap that had been installed and were rehabbing with solid, durable materials. If I had my druthers, that site would feature a 3-story building, however, I have no problem with the reuse of a shorter existing historic structure as it is. In short, it appeared to me that they were doing it right and bringing an old building back to life. Then, I happened by one day after the façade had been put up.
|Add this to the canon of buildings that will undo downtown.|
Have you seen the piece of shit on Market Street? I don’t mean shit as a pejorative term, I mean it in a descriptive way. I’m referring to the stylized, inverted piece of coiled-up dog feces that is the dominant feature of the Noodles façade. It is a prodigious pile and one that a Clifford-sized canine somewhere must be very proud of.
What’s wrong with it ? (note: this is not an exhaustive list, but will suffice for now):
-Context- it does not respond to its physical or historical conditions in any way.
-Materiality- the EIFS is a cheap material that does not respect the fact that downtown buildings are typically built of durable materials such as brick, stone, or concrete (see context). The wood of the box column out front only references the bad building next to it.
-Authenticity- it has none. This is made doubly aggravating by the fact that a quick Google image search shows that the company is not averse to using different building types for different situations. The parapet is in no way functional and serves only as a marketing element. In no way does the building speak of Chattanooga or of urbanity (see context).
-Quality- it appears that most of the construction was done in a quality way until the time came to put a face on it. The EIFS looks cheap (it is) and the parapet is essentially a 2D signage element that looks like it might come down with a solid wind (c’mon solid wind).
|I'm all for exposed structure, but this is awful.|
Noodles & Co. has dropped a deuce on us. By their actions they have said “Chattanooga, we like you enough to be here, but maintaining our brand and identity is more important than the quality of your downtown…now give us your money”. I won’t. As a slightly right leaning Southerner, I have a solid private property rights streak running through me. I do respect their right to build as they see fit on their site. The flip side of that coin, however, is my right to identify their error, write about it, and to not patronize their establishment. I would not eat there if Bear Bryant came back from the dead to personally cook me the greatest noodle dish ever devised (and I have great love for both Bear and Noodle dishes). In the immortal words of Trent from Swingers "I’m outta here! I’m not eating here… I wouldn’t eat here… I would never eat here anyway! "
The second thing that has me depressed is the realization that the circle isn’t as strong as I thought. It is disappointing to see maladroit interventions when one would think that the designers would know better. It’s perplexing to hear people lament the state of Buffalo Wild Wing’s or Applebee’s, then see them contribute to work that exhibits a similar lack of contextual sensitivity. I’m not passing judgment though; I understand the pressure to create your own context when paying clients are involved.
The fact that the community is talking about urban design issues again is fantastic. While we are talking, however, downtown continues to exhibit a declining standard of building. Will the forthcoming downtown design guidelines help? Maybe, but from what I have heard to this point, they may do as much harm as good. Unfortunately, in our country there is no clean solution to good urban design. Legislating design is nigh upon impossible, depending on designers to convince their clients to do the right thing is hit and miss (assuming that the designers even know the right thing to begin with), and the persuasion/peer pressure route is a tough road to hoe. I do not paint a pretty picture, but the fact is, it's not all roses on the downtown scene.
With that off my chest, I’m off to Iowa (to deal with a totally different set of problems). Hopefully, I'll return in a better mood. During my absence, please don’t eat at Noodles and please design like it matters.
*I had a blast camping with everyone! That is definitely something we needed, let’s get together again some time soon.