Thursday, September 18, 2008

Building Up

There's a matte shot in Scorcese's "The Age of Innocence" that has always blown me away. It's a sudden, unexpected shot of a single mansion, standing alone on a corner in the undeveloped grid of what will be upper Manhattan, waiting for the rest of urban New York to catch up. It's a vanguard for the built changes coming to New York. It's a stunning, exciting image.

I was similarly stunned by 2 new buildings in Memphis when I first saw them:

The Rivercrest
The Rivercrest During Construction

and the Stratum on Highland.

The Stratum on Highland

Suddenly appearing on corners where parking lots and underurban developments had been for years, they're exciting vanguards for Memphis' under-developed grid. They've done it by:
  • building over 2 stories


  • building to the sidewalk, that is, Hell no! to parking lots and mega-berms.


  • building residences on a mostly commercial street, that is, mixed-use.


  • building on the corner, that is, magnifying their power.


  • building on a spot that was either under- or unused before, that is, infill.
The Rivercrest is not so radical for a building in the South Main district, but it immediately changed the way I experienced the corner of Front and Pontotoc. Probably because it filled a corner which was long a surface parking lot. Plus it has a great staggered roof texturing its skyline.

The Rivercrest and the Hotel Pontotoc

So filling the space next to Gus' Fried Chicken on Front Street is all gravy.

The Rivercrest and Gus's

Mixed-use combo.

The Stratum on Highland (which I've posted about before) not only transformed the corner it's on, it's close to physically transforming the street. It's made Highland Strip a more urban space as well as a mix-used environment by adding residences to the street.

The Stratum on Highland

And they've done it in an area where they could have easily gotten by with the same old berm/parking lot style development. Far as I'm concerned, the Stratum is THE model for healthy physical changes in the University district. Good design, good use of space.

Will development catch up with them? In a hundred years we won't be as dense as New York, but a Memphis-scaled* density could be so much greater than what we have now. But the Stratum and Rivercrest are very much the exception now.

*by building not much higher than Memphis' great oaks, we could still have 5 to 6 stories of new development that wouldn't dwarf neighborhoods.

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Anonymous Matthew said...

The Stratum is just the first stage of development for the Highland Strip. The whole street from there all the way down to Central is going to be rebuilt over the next few years. It's why the church on the corner there was torn down.

Expect many changes.

9:06 AM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

thanks for commenting matthew.

if you're talking about the church on Highland, it went down in the last few days because it was there when I took the pix for this post last weekend. No problem when it does since they have a plan (as long as they hurry on the new development).

I had written earlier about the university demolishing the Prescott Memorial church at the corner of Patterson and Mynders. They _don't_ have a plan, other than a master plan which could take 20 years to put in place.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous MATAlac said...

Thanks for posting the pics. While the Stratum isn't a ground breaking design (really they could have worked on that corner turn a tad more) it is well detailed. As for the south main bldgs, they are pretty, but I feel that the neighborhood is a bit handcuffed with context. The Archimania building next to the arcade is fairly fresh, but I have my doubts about the machine shop condo, it would have been nice to have all metal or something else besides stucco facing main.

BTW: Age of Innocence was filmed in Troy,NY, often a stage set due to its look of gilded age Manhattan frozen in time.

2:41 PM  
Blogger gatesofmemphis said...

Matalac, I do love the Archimania townhomes, but I also love the roofline of the Rivercrest. By the way, it looks much better in brick and mortar than it did in its pre-construction visualization -- is that normal?

11:49 PM  

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