Imagining Infill On Bardstown Road

Imaginary infill in the Highlands (Photo by Diane Deaton-Street, Rendering by Broken Sidewalk)
Imaginary infill in the Highlands (Photo by Diane Deaton-Street, Rendering by Broken Sidewalk)
Imaginary infill in the Highlands (Photo by Diane Deaton-Street, Rendering by Broken Sidewalk)
Imaginary infill. (Photo by Diane Deaton-Street, Rendering by Broken Sidewalk)

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.

PNC Bank Branches Across The Street From One Another (Map via Lojic)
PNC Bank Branches Across The Street From One Another. (via Lojic)

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.

Imaginary infill in the Highlands (Diagram by Broken Sidewalk)
Imaginary infill in the Highlands. (Broken Sidewalk)

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.

Imaginary infill in the Highlands (map via Lojic)
Imaginary infill in the Highlands. (Broken Sidewalk)

36 COMMENTS

  1. I’m thinking there is some good infill already going on in Louisville..so it’s just a matter of time (and rising property values) before we see examples like this actually get built on Bardstown.

  2. Your imaginary infill is not small. That is a huge building and I don't think it fits with the neighborhood either. I do agree one of the banks should close and hopefully they won't put a drugstore or gas station there. Maybe something like at Bardstown & Grinstead where the car repair place used to be.

  3. Very cool. As Funkychick17 noted, the best site would have been the corner of Grinstead and Bardstown. With even more mass.

  4. I've always thought that parking lot would be a good food-cart destination. I know that Louisville has never seen anything of the like, but in Portland they have food cart areas established in certain parts of town, and they're very popular.

    Anything that takes away space from cars and gives it back to people to use for housing, parks, gardens, pedestrian use, etc, seems great to me.

  5. CW, I definitely agree with that, but it’s going to be a massive project build out the Mid City Mall site. I chose the smaller option for this example to show how even a small infill project can change the entire feeling of the city. All in time, though.

    There is some great infill going on in Louisville, Jeff. I just think Bardstown Road is far past ready for real infill. It’s the most vibrant street in Louisville and has the demographics that can support new development and yet is filled with inappropriate uses and voids all along it.

    Infill should have been taking place on Bardstown for years and yet there are only a few examples of it. I agree, though, that it’s only a matter of time for other neighborhoods that aren’t as strong as the Highlands economically.

  6. I love my portland foodcarts! Man, there is nothing like that in Louisville at all, maybe Red's or that hot dog place on Bardstown Rd. but they aren't really veggie friendly.

  7. The Bardstown – Grinstead site does have great potential. It's a shame the old car repair shop wasn't torn down but instead has become a mini strip-mall. That's exactly the opposite of what that corner needs.

    This imaginary project is in keeping with the historic scale of the neighborhood. If there are large three-story houses on Cherokee and four- to five-story apartment buildings only a block away, there's no reason a four-story mixed-use building can't be built on the main commercial street in the area. There are also high-rises at Cherokee Park also a few blocks away.

    It may be bigger than what Louisville is used to seeing, but I think it's the kind of development that we need to see more of.

    I'm not sure what these food-cart destinations you're talking about are, Brent & Creamer. Care to elaborate?

  8. http://www.foodcartsportland.com/

    This website here has a lot of reviews on food carts in PDX. The food cart movement itself, if you want to call it that, seems to have created quite the street culture there from what I could tell. I don't know what set it off exactly, but I think the city government had a lot to do with encouraging that type of business model in old parking lots, vacant lots, etc.

  9. Louisville definitely needs to move away from the parking lot in front type of development and the resistance against density. Although the Bardstown/Grinstead development is not terrible, the wall helps alot, it is still very unfriendly to pedestrians. I don't see what is the big deal with putting the parking lot around back, this should be a zoning requirement in all new urban development. I'm Just curious, can anyone think of a well designed operating gas station in town? I'm drawing a blank right now.

  10. Thanks for taking the time to illustrate the concept. I don't know how many times I have stopped at a corner then imagine what could be there. Though I never really thought twice about that location. It is just a complicated space I wanted to get through. (How many overhead lines are you hiding in that image?)

    Bardstown and Grindsted – a missed opportunity.

  11. Nobody has mentioned the traffic issues on Bardstown Rd already and the opposition of area residents to these developments.

  12. Interesting concept, Brent.

    All the wires from the original photo are shown in the rendering although they are sometimes a little hard to see. There certainly are a lot of them in the area.

    Traffic is tricky, Danny. People say we don’t have enough density to have real transit options but then they fight increasing the density. In the case of Bardstown Road, a certain degree of congestion keeps the area safer for pedestrians but it can sometimes be a little too much at rush hour or on a Friday night. My personal view is that Bardstown shouldn’t be viewed so much as a through street as it is today. It’s the destination. Because of the grid, there are plenty of options I have found for getting through at rush hour in a very reasonable time.

  13. Good job Brandon. I agree with you that the scale can (and should) be increased. No one ever seems to complain about the height of the Willow, Dartmouth and other apartment/condo towers being too tall even though the Cherokee Triangle is essentially a 3-4 story in height neighborhood.

    I also agree with CW, that the best opportunity for infill exists at Skid City Mall across the street. Similar to your efforts here, I’ve done several sketch exercises of what could be the best use for that site.

  14. Ooh, I love the idea of food carts! There is a Mexican food cart in the parking lot of the Eastland Shopping Center at Bardstown Road & Watterson Trail. It is from a Mexican restaurant in Bullitt county. The cart is there on Friday & Saturday evenings if isn’t too cold. I have seen Hispanics there a lot enjoying the food and from talking to them it is authentic. We love the food and go there a few times a month. Enjoy!

  15. I’ll have to step up and be one of the nay-sayers here. The suburban “feel” is what I treasure most about Louisville, and especially the Bardstown Road/Highlands area.

    I don’t think slapping a giant multi-story building is in any way contextually relevant to the area, at least not in the way it’s presented here. Set it back from the sidewalk a bit, put some greenery and a little open/community area in there, similar to what’s happening on the Carmichaels/Heine Bros. side of Longest, and it would suit much better. The openness of the area is what makes it so appealing, and this design would close it off from the rest of the street.

    I’m not against making better use of space, and that bank building lot is certainly a ripe target, but this isn’t the solution that fits.

    In my opinion, obviously.

  16. Although I realize this rendering is more of a massing issue than style; the architectural expression is really ho-hum, more of which Bardstown Road can hardly stand. What makes Bardstown Road interesting is that there is no unified style. So let’s keep it that way.

  17. I grew up two blocks from this site, down Rosewood Ave. My 90-year-old mother stil lives there. In 1957, when we moved to the Highlands, that broken intersection – Bardstown, Longest, Rosewood – was lined with flush-to-the-sidewalk one-and-two storey buildings. I used to get my hair cut in a building at the corner of Rosewood and Bardstown Rd. There was a small appliance repair (there’s a throwback!) at the same corner – where the smokes and booze shop and stripmall parking is now. The Carmichael’s building was a neighborhood drugstore. The Mid City Mall site housed the German Protestant Orphan’s Home, on a wooded, rolling plot centered with richly interesting, ominous-looking brick structures. Every day of school, walking to the old Atherton on Morton Ave, I watched the slow demolition and denuding of the site, and the building of the Mid City Mall.

    In short, the area was dense and appealing and urban – with trees and brick and necessary businesses.

    The other day I was with my mother and I took out my growing collection of photo books on Louisville. For Mom they were a history of missing buildings. Urban renewal and suburban thinking have taken away much of the density and appeal of real city living, but not enough to kill it. Other cities our size have done worse, but we must be vigilant. Bardstown Road is, in many ways, the bellwether for urban revisioning. Branden is right: we don’t need simply to save it. We need to rebuild it. “Infill” is not really the right word. What he is proposing is “refilling” what was lost.

    And as for parking, again I agree with Branden. Close Bardstown off to traffic in places. Has anyone been to the Zombie Walk, when it became essentially carless? Urban delight.

    Bardstown Road is home to three businesses that are both symbols and sources of Louisville character and soul: Wild and Woolly, Carmichael’s, and Ear X-tacy. Each is independent, each is a ‘third place’ in New Urbanism terms – and each is the source of obsolescent media. Most third places, the kind that foster community, are built around either food and drink or media. What comes next as places where people meet with others to be together or alone together, to talk about a passion, to consult knowledgeable retailers? What can architecture and creative planning and entrepreneurship do to save the old third places and foster new ones?

  18. The most interesting part of this article doesn't appear to have been discussed- 'how can we promote new construction in urban Louisville?'. Certainly the obvious answers are to live and shop in urban Louisville but I wonder if we couldn't generate a couple more ideas. Presumably we are all at different points in our careers and have varying income levels but perhaps there would be interest among some readers of BS in pooling resources, selecting a site, and creating infill. Personally, I would like to see something in the empty lot on the N. side of Oak between Brook and First.

  19. I live on Sherwood, park side. To those bellyachers who complain about traffic in the Highlands, I say that in times of heavier traffic they should use Cherokee and Baxter like any thinking person! Or sit in traffic those few moments and observe the fun mix of life out of your car window.

    And I love the rendering/idea, Brandon!! As soon as I win the lottery, you and I should go into business together! :)

  20. that building is weak.

    Anyway, would anyone happen to have any photos of this specific site? i can’t find any online that are good enough and i’m doing a project here, this is my site (architecture project). I need it for some renderings but no longer live close enough to run over and snap some pics.

  21. Sorry, that was a bit mean, I just get bothered when people don’t pay attention to scale when building. You shouldn’t have a 5 story building mashed into a site filled with nothing but two and 3 story buildings, especially when the buildings lot size is twice what the average is.
    Cut out a floor and continue having that top floor pushed back and it’d be good, and i agree the site is under utilized (completely wasted by having a bank there… banks waste space). this is why I chose this site for my project haha.

  22. Be sure to post your project on this site when’s it’s done Chris, so we can give it a good, eviscerating crit.

    I’m pretty sure Brandon did that rendering in a couple of hours for this blog article (which he does in his spare time – from New York City).

    Seriously, I’ll be interested to see what you can do in a semester.

  23. we don’t have a full semester for tihs, it’s been a 5 week project, and it isn’t the rendering that I found weak, it was the buildings oversized scale. anyone can look at the plan view and see that its out of scale with its neighbors. @Matthew Kuhl@Matthew Kuhl -

  24. @Chris
    Chris, I’m being serious when I say you should ask Brandon if he’d post your project. He’s shown student work before (namely the Yale studio that did the Distillery Project on Main). I’m sure he’d be more than happy to showcase your work in the context of the article on which we’re commenting.

    As for your issue with the height of the building, I personally think it’s fine. It’s a corner site, which helps. He is setting back the top floor so it’s not too overwhelming, and it would go a long way to setting a more dense ‘tone’ for future development along the Bardstown Road Corridor.

    Good luck with your project.

  25. Not sure why it was posting under a different name. Project turned out alright, my rendering program kept crashing though so I had to make do… not super happy with my renderings but Boeing seemed to love every persons and my professor liked mine (even though it wasn’t as deconstructed as he wanted… nor was it the site he wanted). I would have liked to deconstruct it more but it really doesn’t make sense if you think about feasability.
    http://imgur.com/p73RH

    @Matthew Kuhl -

  26. Tyler, (not Chris) I would have to say, as someone who passes by that spot daily and appreciates all sort of architecture and diversity of such, I really don’t like your concept. Maybe this would look better in a neighborhood that does not already have such a great blend of the 1890′s thru the 1930′s. Maybe further down Bardstown Road in Buechel or somewhere. I applaud your reuse!

  27. I was in Long Beach, CA last weekend where a promenade has recently been constructed and there was a public art piece that mimicked the shell of an airplane. Is this a current design trend or simply a coincidence? If it is a trend it seems like an odd one in that many people, including myself, have come to detest flying in the U.S. post 9/11. I realize your design, tyler, is outside the context of airports and actual air travel but I’m not eager to be reminded of commercial aviation when unnecessary. That being said, I like the shade structure that may also be a bus stop as well as the 2nd floor outdoor area.

  28. suppose its a bit of a trend, mostly because of the boneyards in nevada and arizona and california, my professor is obsessed with them. Even though when a plane is recycled, 98% of it is recycled…. so forcing a building out of a plane doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But i can’t exactly tell my professor that everything he’s been doing for two years is completely pointless. And I don’t like flying anymore either, it’s just the project we were given. @william -

  29. everybody is, and those make more sense, because you basically have a mini shell building right there… i don’t really like the idea of using planes for stuff (they can be cool but realistically speaking…)and my professor is driving me crazy with these, he needs to exit his fantasyland.@Holly Hamilton -

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