Louisville needs to start taking infill development seriously. Infill development involves building on underutilized lots inside the city instead of on green fields (i.e. farms) on the suburban fringe. There are vast swaths of land in Louisville, either abandoned brownfield sites, surface level parking lots, or undesirable suburban style buildings in the core that offer opportunities to increase the population density of the existing city and bring about a more walkable Louisville. Spoiler: This is a fake project.
While any infill site can be desirable for development, I feel corner sites offer added value in their ability to define the urban streetscape and radically change the feeling of the street for the better. Corners are anchor sites that offer opportunities for high visibility buildings. As such, they require a little extra design effort to create a building that appropriately addresses the challenges of turning a corner and handling two often different dynamics on each street front.
In a newly rejuvenating neighborhood, it’s cheaper and easier to renovate existing historic structures to create a viable economy to support new construction, but it’s a slow process. (And Louisville loves nothing like a wrecking ball.) Louisville has plenty of neighborhoods that are currently ready for such new construction in areas like Downtown, Old Louisville, Butchertown, Nulu, or the Highlands among others.
Even Bardstown Road, the most vibrant street in Louisville, has plenty of room for infill development. (And we’re starting to see infill proposed.) Here, I would like to point out a site as an example that could dramatically change the perception of Bardstown Road with just one building. It’s the corner of Bardstown Road and Longest Avenue where a suburban style National City Bank branch was recently converted to a PNC branch.
The current site is dominated by a deep set back from the street, a small building surrounded by a moat of internal asphalt, and a large drive through. Furthermore, after the merger of PNC and National City Bank, there are now two PNC branches across the street from one another on Bardstown Road. Both buildings are inappropriate forms for an urban setting. Check the map below.
I have spent many afternoons sitting on the patio of Heine Brothers Coffee at this location pondering the current building’s nondescript brick wall facing Longest Avenue. Because of the angle of the historic building anchored by Carmichael’s Bookstore and the street, a well-proportioned triangular plaza is formed. It’s spatial potential, however, is diminished by the void across the street.
For the sake of illustration, I created a quick fictional project to demonstrate the opportunity that exists on just this one site. It’s by no means an architectural wonder, but since it’s not real and it’s not going to be built, it will do.
The theoretical building is mixed-use and includes retail space, office space, apartments, townhouses, and small parking structure in the back. The building also demonstrates a slight increase in scale from existing historic buildings in the area without dominating the streetscape. It will, however, be a noticeable shift from what currently exists.
While some will undoubtedly be fearful of this change, I feel it can be appropriate to build at different scales than we did 100 years ago as long as it respects the existing context. We’re a bigger city today and growing, and we needn’t shy away from that fact.
In this example, the structure is divided into two segments. The more urban side facing Bardstown Road is four stories with a fifth set back on the roof to minimize its visual presence. Turning the corner, the height shifts downward to a series of three-story townhomes forming a transition into the residential neighborhood. The act of turning the corner is marked by a chamfered corner but architects employ a variety of techniques to better effect.
Other visual clues present a subtle architectural language that relates the building to its context. Material changes or detailing can indicate a change of use or relate to the heights of surrounding buildings. Setbacks and other techniques can also achieve this.
Many mixed-use structures utilize a use-pattern of retail on the sidewalk with office space above all topped by residential units. This mix provides activity in the building at all times of the day and staggers parking demand as residents may be away during the day when office tenants use the building. The band of office space also provides a sound buffer between residences and retail space and elevates residences above the noise of the street.
Overall, infill development has the potential to really make an impact on the urban feel of Louisville and provide the densities required for the kind of city amenities like transit that urban dwellers desire. This kind of development can be more difficult than suburban development as it might involve environmental cleanup or additional regulatory hurdles, but it’s some of the most important for the city.
Is there a particular site in Louisville you think could benefit from an infill project? How can we promote new construction in urban Louisville? Are there any recent infill projects that have caught your eye in the past few years? Discussion in the comments.