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What's This?
[Editor’s Note: Urban planner Nick Seivers has re-imagined an oddly shaped and underutilized block into a monumental design that could knit together neighborhoods. He calls the proposal the Monticello. View more of Nick’s proposals on his blog, Urban Composition.]

On the triangular block where Baxter Avenue, Lexington Road, Jefferson Street, Liberty Street, and Chestnut Street come together, I propose a contemporary mixed use tower to define the intersection between Downtown, Nulu, Phoenix Hill, and the eastern neighborhoods leading to the Highlands.

This is one of those quickly recognizable lots around town. I’m sure that I am not the only one who thinks to himself: “I wish that they would do something with that lot.” Here’s one suggestion.

(Courtesy Urban Composition)
(Courtesy Urban Composition)

I suggest this contemporary, elegant, angular, international form for this site. This is a form that could include anything from a discount retailer and multi-modal transit hub to performance venues, coffee houses, sushi restaurants, and art galleries on the first and second levels, with residential units above. New storefronts on Baxter Avenue activate the block between Nulu and the Highlands and take advantage of the high visibility and traffic volumes at this location.

The interior space (purple) between the 11-story (approximately 150 foot tall) tower on Baxter Avenue and the V-shaped four-story section on the Chestnut and Liberty street frontages, caps a parking structure providing an outdoor space for residents and special events. The parking structure and main entry to the residences is off of the relatively quiet Chestnut Street. The Liberty Street frontage is shorter than the other two elevations and visibility may not be attractive for some high-intensity type uses. I imagine that the right occupant here may be a gym or a catering company.

The triangular site. (Courtesy Bing)
The triangular site. (Courtesy Bing)

The walls of the Monticello facing the Highlands would be adorned with a large brightly painted mural (pink) greeting motorists and others from the eastern neighborhoods as they pass under the elevated railroad on their way Downtown, the Medical Center, or Nulu. This building not only occupies this lot at the right-of-way lines, it activates it and redefines the neighborhoods it sits between.

(Courtesy Urban Composition)
(Courtesy Urban Composition)

Street trees and outdoor dining are not shown in these illustrations. Undefined areas are shown as a green. The small cube that contains equipment for one of the local utility companies remains unchanged in this concept. The focus here is on adapting the odd shape of the lot into comfortable and rich urban experience and juxtaposing height and expanses of glass to an area with small metal warehouses, century-old brick homes and corner stores, and complex street intersections.

(Courtesy Urban Composition)
(Courtesy Urban Composition)

The name Monticello is a reference to Thomas Jefferson whose influence locally beyond Jefferson Street and Jefferson County is described more proficiently by historians. Jefferson interpreted Classical architecture at his home, Monticello, in Virginia. Historical Jefferson may not recognize the architectural inspiration for this Urban Composition or be keen to its location within an urbanized area, but I feel that if Jefferson were alive and as traveled today as he was in his time, I think that he would appreciate the International Style so prevalent in our nation’s capital and around the globe.

A place called Gap of the Ridge outside of Monticello, Kentucky (pronounced locally as Monte-cell-o) is where my father was from. I don’t know that C. Allen Seivers was a big fan of the architectural styles in fashion from when he was invited to travel the globe by the U.S. Army until he was about the age I am now, but he was generally encouraging of my crazy ideas. So in my clumsy way, this is my dedication to my father.

(Courtesy Urban Composition)
(Courtesy Urban Composition)
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6 COMMENTS

  1. Access issues make something this dense perhaps not practical. Hard to say. I remain a bigger fan of less than six stories and pedestrian improvements at this intersection – which has the worst connectivity since Story and Mellwood……one way hell for connecting anything IMO .
    Y Louisville!

  2. God forbid someone would propose something so “contemporary” there, what with the civil war era building just to the south of this block.(Oh wait, this isn’t really in the Butchertown, Cherokee Triangle or any other neighborhood that gets to use “historic nature” as it’s use-all excuse to fight development.)PS this looks even more “modern” than the proposal 2 blocks north by developers from The Gulch(followed by the deafening hugh and cry from Historic Neighbors).

  3. I’m a fan of good contemporary architecture but this looks like a mid-20th century housing project or dormitory.

  4. The scale of the building looks disproportionate to the size of the lot. I’m all for new development (especially skyline changers) but this design is lazy.

  5. I don’t disagree with the comments. I was more afraid that it looked like a Los Angeles instant edge city circa 2005 or a Holiday Inn from 1965 than the Blanton House on Liberty Street or the Unitas Tower on the University of Louisville campus.

    It is a long, tall mass that spans most of the block of Baxter Avenue, interrupted by balconies. A regular repeated grid of balconies. It is utilitarian and simple. It didn’t take long to model this once I had an initial sketch. When I finished the model I wasn’t certain if I was a genius designer getting a handle on SketchUp or if I took a short cut on design. All new buildings should contribute but do they have to each be a landmark?

    I could deconstruct a box, twist it, bend it, develop fantastic angles, and planes on planes. To what end I am not sure for a building that is mostly a warehouse of beds. I don’t care to toss aside the lessons of thousands of years of intense human settlement to express myself in architecture. I could reference the L&N Building, a block-long historic building and terminating vista on Broadway, or the iconic Flat Iron Building in New York City. But I felt a new interpretation on the International style is a little more authentic in 2015. I could add some more detail to this volume and tip the economical design towards chic and elegant. And maybe I will. I resisted the urge to fill the entire block or introduce curves on the corners of the triangle. That’s what I want to do. That’s my default, but here I let each box be a box. With all of the angles of entry to this wedge shaped lot, the alignment of the boxes rejects the approaching vistas of each corridor. This building is a punk. Maybe I should rename it “the Wedge.” It agitates. I imagine – easy to say, now I need to figure out how to illustrate that which is locked in my head – using glass to add interest to the façade in the way Museum Plaza or the Omni Hotel would, and brightening the gateway to Downtown with a mural against the dull backdrop of beige and grey buildings on the Louisville skyline.

    Right now this is just an idea, a fake building on someone else’s land. The Monticello is a little taller than the Baxter Avenue public right-of-way is wide here. Maybe that is significant. Perhaps the height defines the place, the wedge between Downtown and the eastern neighborhoods: it’s a place, a point of reference, a reason to slow down or to stop. I think that height is also a part of the calculus for developing this site with ground floor retail that wraps around and encloses on-site parking facilities. I don’t know. I haven’t done the math at this stage. I do, however, strongly believe in pro-actively defining expectations for land use and transportation from the regional level to the site/ context specific level is an important conversation.

    Though (as I said elsewhere), I may not have any material interest in the property or the capacity to raise capital to make any of these proposals get to plan review I still have a stake, an interest, a concern, an inherited feeling of ownership and stewardship for all corners of this region.

    I am going to keep doing these investigations because I enjoy the artistic aspect of it, and because illustration is part of my process of understand concepts and participating in the community-wide conversation. Through these illustrations, the Broken Sidewalk community has something to react to, a wedge to divide us or a contributing wedge on the urban conversation arch.

    I don’t know what the right answer is. I do sincerely appreciate the feedback. I invite suggestions and alternative design illustrations.

  6. Hey, I’m and architect and as a diagram and a massing study it works for me! Totally agree with your “let the box be a box” philosophy, there’s nothing wrong with a well-designed box.

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