Presentation Academy Best New Landmark of 2009
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Presentation Academy Best New Landmark of 2009
Presentation Academy Best New Landmark of 2009. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

You have spoken and the votes are tallied and we can now name your choice for Best New Landmark of 2009. Congratulations to Presentation Academy for their Arts & Athletics Center on the corner of Fourth and Breckinridge streets in the SoBro neighborhood!

Broken Sidewalk teamed up with local architect and historian Steve Wiser to ask what you thought of newly built architecture and monuments in Louisville and we’re astounded at the response. In all, we received over 370 votes for a wide range of projects. Here’s the rundown of the top five:

  • Presentation Academy – 125 Votes
  • Chamberlain Pointe – 59 Votes
  • ZirMed Towers – 55 Votes
  • St. Mary Academy – 46 Votes
  • Lincoln Memorial – 15 Votes

Congratulations to the top five vote recipients for garnering the public’s support and for all 18 projects that received votes. Here’s what you had to say about the buildings you voted for:

  • Readers overwhelmingly praised the architectural detail and continuity of Presentation Academy‘s new addition with its original 19th century building and with the surrounding neighborhood. Many commented that new growth in the historic neighborhood is welcome and refreshing providing life to the corner.
  • Respondents favoring the Chamberlain Pointe project weren’t so talkative but were refreshed that new suburban development isn’t just a cookie-cutter strip mall. Readers were happy to see the building’s facade broken into individual components resembling human scale buildings.
  • Votes for the ZirMed Towers remarked on the striking juxtaposition of old and new architecture surrounding the structure as well as the building’s materiality of industrial concrete and smooth blue glass. Many compared the reflections in the glass to the facets of a diamond and enjoyed how the building emulates the spirit of the ZirMed Corporation itself. And, of course, several readers found it refreshing that new development is happening on the western edges of Downtown.
  • Entries praised St. Mary Academy for bringing back the traditional image of the schoolhouse while blending with the architecture of nearby Norton Commons and the rural nature of surrounding farmland. Several reported a calming effect brought about by its design.
  • The majority of readers who voted for the Lincoln Memorial felt that the project would stand the test of time as a true landmark. Several guided their decision by a more fundamental idea of the word landmark and what it should represent in a community. Connections to Kentucky history were also cited.
  • Notable comments for other projects included praise for the Cliff View Terrace‘s attention to urban form, sustainability, and innovative structural system, admiration for the Clinical & Translational Research Building‘s unique, cutting edge design that reflects the advanced research going on inside, and pointed out the McAlpine Locks & Shippingport Bridge‘s vast economic boon to the city as well as its long history and the design of the bridge.
Prizes generously provided by Steve Wiser, AIA
Prizes generously provided by Steve Wiser, AIA.

But let’s not forget the other winners. We announced that two respondents would be selected at random to receive Steve Wiser’s new book Louisville Tapestry and his DVD Louisville Landmarks and Legends. Because the turnout was so high, we’re going to select a third random winner to receive Louisville 2035, another of Steve’s great books pondering what the next twenty years of development in Louisville might hold.

Hold the drum roll, the three winners of our contest are Neil Curran, Jill O’Bryan, and Mark Lichtefeld. Congratulations all around. If your name doesn’t appear here, don’t despair. You can still acquire a copy of Steve Wiser’s books or DVD for yourself or someone special this holiday season. More details on purchasing them are available on Steve’s website Wiser Designs.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Best New Landmark of 2009 survey!

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Branden Klayko


  1. Stanley, I think what needs to be considered a bit more than architectural significance is funtion. The Pres AAC is in an area that has been nearly void of new development for decades. When schools like Mercy Academy are running to the suburbs, Presentation stands firm, building a new facility in the urban core. It breathes life into the intersection and brings interest to the SoBro corridor. It aids in creating a community out of a very broken neighborhood. I, along with many others, applaud Presentation Academy for their new Louisville landmark!

  2. It’s sad that this is the best that Louisville can do. Did the design firm’s friends all vote for this? This is reminiscent (and even worse) of the Harold Washington public library by Tom Beebe, a poor Sullivan replication which Chicago hardly deserved.
    My vote goes to Smith Group’s Clinical & Translational Research Building, though the fact that the city insisted on brick on the side facades diminishes the stature of this pretty interesting modern design.

  3. Louisville is rich with lovely architecture, old and emerging.

    This is obviously not great (nor even above-average) architecture, but the development is popular among its base and this is, in all fairness, a popular vote — not an architectural review.

    So sincere congratulations to them for the award — and thank you to Branden for once again helping us recognise and appreciate the value of our urban environment.

  4. Eric Jacob’s argument seems to be that any building that fills a space in a sketchy neighborhood is laudatory. When that kind of funding is available, design quality should also be on the front burner. This is another lost opportunity.

  5. That isn’t what I suggested at all. I spoke only for this particular development. In most cases, really any school that is going to expand in a “sketchy neighborhood” is certainly laudatory, the architecture not withstanding. No, the Presentation AAC architecture is not cutting edge, but that should not determine if the development is or isn’t significant and whether it is a success. I agree that design quality cannot be slighted, but, for this development, they chose to honor the hostoric style and the materials of the existing school and its surrounding area. Underwheming, perhaps, but I do think they achieved what they wanted.

  6. Underwhelming is an understatement. Lots of these projects get away with mediocre designs by claiming that they fit into the context of the environment. Omni architects did a nice building just across the street which is hardly Romanesque in character. It’s almost insulting to find a project of this stature which might have been sketched up by an eighth-grader…did we not know otherwise.

  7. As Pip mentioned, the nature of this survey was a popular vote and Presentation’s AAC certainly wins hands down. It would be interesting to see a similar survey done by architects just of Louisville architecture (as opposed to the AIA-KY awards).

    It does seem traditional architecture has really taken off in Louisville in the last several years and I believe there’s an interesting discussion to be had on the demand of such architecture versus what architects often want to see built.

  8. The fact that replicative architecture of the traditional variety is so popular in Louisville says something about the city…and its political leadership. For people who still want to live in an environment that reminds them of the 17th-19th centuries, that is understandable. Personally, I would prefer to feel like I was living in the 21st century, with the same kind of creativity in architecture that we find in the rest of the design world.

  9. Despite the arrogance and obligatory professional-babble (every job has it. I have mine) of Mr. Collier’s statements, I like the questions he raises. Let me make a stab at a response. I returned to Louisville four years ago after being away 35. I lived in Le Courbusier’s Chandigarh, India for two years and learned to hate him. My field is literature, but lately I want to find the poetics in lived space. I, like most folks, look at the built landscape with personal impulses, personal histories and experience, and a little reading. So when judging what happens to the landscape around us, I imagine a number of useful criteria. Here is a poet’s and English teacher’s list of issues:

    MATERIALS: Every material used in a building has resonances. I lived in Rochester for half my life and longed for the brick and stone of Louisville. Even expensive new homes there were often cheap-looking clapboard. Chandigarh’s bleeding, driveway concrete everywhere has made me uneasy about a lot of commercial buildings. I’m tired of glass and white concrete and incongruous surfaces. The materials of Gehry’s organic forms attract me, but lately they have moved from art to fashion. I wonder about color. I wonder about the palette of a whole cityscape, about the colors of a city.

    Is there an objective standard for materials?

    HISTORY: How a city came to be and how it evolved must matter. How an architect views the canvas matters: does it stay a palimpsest where the notes from the past can still be read, or is it seen as an Etch-a-Sketch where what’s new just replaces what’s old? I hate the Galt House. Do I want it gone, though?

    SOUL: Cities have souls – some big, some thin… Louisville has soul – strange, twisting, big, tawdry, unpredictable… Its new architecture should mirror that twisted and interesting soul. That means surprises and it means echoes and it means depths. I worry about the Arena and its tinny references. I worry about the loss of parts of Whiskey Row (Iron Quarter?). I wonder what the out-of-scale, outlandish, nervy Museum Plaza might do for and to us if it happens. It could be a young Ali, a Hunter S. Thompson… or it could be a tone-deaf New York fashion piece, outdated in a few years…

    TONE: Do we want a building to be hip? Classy? Traditional? Tawdry and fun? Is our vision of our city curatorial or improvisatory?

    INTERIORS AND EXTERIORS: What are the poetics of the spaces created? Does one want to BE there, move there, talk there, work there? And what of landscaping and patina? How will plants and trees and age matter? It is those things that make Columbus, Indiana’s message work: Modernism needs roots and patina to be beautiful.

    Yes, I’d like to see some adventurous, cutting-edge 21st century design here in the mix, but where, how, and why?

  10. all good points, ken. and, to my mind, all arguments against what we see at presentation and chamberlain pointe. mr collyer is passionate about design but i don’t think he’s a practitioner in the way you’re suggesting – not an opinion to be easily dismissed as ‘professional-babble’.

    the layers of material and meaning are important primarily because they can be *read* as layers of different eras. this is why most landmarks bodies make a point that the old should distinguish itself from the new. new construction masquerading as old neither ‘honors’ the old, as several has suggested here, nor does it allow the new to assume the weight/gravity of history that the old has earned honestly. it’s a question of integrity: copying old stuff undermines the integrity of both new and old parts of our built legacy.

    i don’t believe any of the projects in the original list rise to the caliber of ‘landmark’ from an architectural standpoint. some are nice design – fine, even good, solutions. but their best hopes are to be the sites of some important events in our future history.

  11. (and, as we’ve said in exchanges before, ken, using le corbusier as an example of ALL architects’ arrogance and chandigarh as an example of ALL modern is really just a straw-man game. corb was – well – corb. and chandigarh is 40+ yrs old and as inappropriate in 2009 as many of these other period pieces. it’s really not fair to let it stand for ‘modern’.)

  12. I think we all agree more than we disagree. My use of the phrase “professional-babble” was not meant to imply that what Collier was saying was ‘just babbling,’ but that he was using a kind of professional jargon that I have become perhaps overly sensitive to. Think of ‘psychobabble’ and ‘business speak’ – or from my profession, the litspeak of the deconstructionists or of education theorists – what I call ‘edubabble’ – language whose opacity creates shibboliths meant to keep out all but the cognoscenti and create an unearned sense of depth and value. New language and special terms can add clarity and specificity to discourse, and perhaps Collier’s terms do. I suppose what I was seeing was a move to distance and elevate himself with that language. But hey, I do that stuff all the time myself. I may be doing it now!

    As for my little statement, it was not meant to support Presentation’s award. I didn’t vote for it and wouldn’t. I agree, actually, that ‘landmark’ implies both weight and innovation and that simply duplicating existing buildings doesn’t do the trick. What I was trying to begin to do was establish a broader, more phenomenological (uh, oh… now I’m showing off!) and idiosyncratic set of criteria for judging architectural and development moves. Using those criteria, Presentation’s architecture may not fulfill ‘landmark’ criteria, but it could be right for the use, location, history, context, etc. Maybe the most useful dichotomy I created is ‘curating v improvising.’ If we imagine some mystical ‘powers that be’ shaping a cityscape, do we want it carefully curating an exhibit of architectural forms or improvising a set of visceral experiences – aesthetic, physical, personal, social? I’m not going to answer that. Just want to pose it.

    As for Chandigarh and Le Courbusier and Modernism, I think you missed my point. This time I was not attacking Modernism, but pointing out that individual, personal experiences color one’s attitudes towards shapes and materials. Surrounded by all that concrete in Chandigarh put me off of concrete. It is difficult for anyone to rise (is it ‘above’?) such impulses. They matter. How universal is my personal is an important question.

    I love contemporary architecture – and much of Modernism. I would love to see more innovative, smart, green, stunning architecture in Louisville. I’d love for people to come here and say, Wow, look at what cool stuff they’re doing here.

    But… and this is the thrust of my argument… it should be architecture that fits in with and CAREFULLY deepens the existing soul of the city. Sometimes – and this is hard to argue here, but I’ll stick by it – the predictable and even the banal is just right. Aesthetics is full of paradoxes.

    And I am pro-palimsest and anti- the amnesia of Etch-a-Sketch.

  13. i probably need to meet you someday, ken. we could have fun conversations over beer or bourbon.

  14. I’d really enjoy that. Now that I’m retired, I miss smart conversation. That’s why I hang around places like BS. A little Pappy and patter is good for the soul.

    You live here in town? Anyone else want to get together?

  15. Interesting that Ken Wilson should accuse me of lapsing into ‘architect speak.’ Maybe I was not clear enough as to my attitude toward use of materials. I have no problem with brick, as long as it is used in a creative manner, and not just a means of suggesting that a building bears some resemblance to something built back in the 17th century.
    As for those who insist on a building fitting into the local context through the use of replication, Ada Louise Huxtable ably questioned this in her review of the new Cooper Union building in the Wall Street Journal (not known for its ‘architect speak’):
    “Accepted ideas of “suitability” assume a certain uniformity of period or style and favor respectful references to existing cornice lines and the replication of material and scale for a largely illusory connection between old and new. This formula becomes meaningless as the buildings that served as models inevitably disappear. It begs the difficult questions of creativity, continuity and contrast implicit in an intricately layered social, cultural and aesthetic reality.”
    In Europe, which has a lot more traditional building stock than we do, they have no qualms about placing a modern structure next to something quite traditional (The Pompidou Centre in Paris is one of the best examples). Only in this country do some dogmatically pursue the notion that a new building must somehow look like its older neighbor….or even a little older yet.

  16. Why does every new building have to look like some sort of alien spaceship? Perhaps you should ask Presentation if they got what they paid for. Perhaps ask the neighbors how they feel about it. I could see your point if Presentation paid for something ultra modern, and they got what what exists currently. I think I’m on pretty sure footing to say that you had no input on designing or paying for the building, so what is it to you if they wanted a traditional building? To you it’s a thing to look at. To the people that have to live next to it or use it every day, perhaps it is something quite different.

  17. Mr. Collyer: (I am SO sorry I’ve been misspelling your name. Unforgivable)… I apologize for my rather snarky remarks. I don’t know why I was being so touchy that day or why I was bothered by a perceived haughtiness of tone. The fact is, I pretty much agree with what you’re saying here. I think architecture in a town should be varied and surprising, and I often love the juxtaposition of contemporary design with traditional forms. It makes us see both better. My comment about brick – in fact most of my comments – were aimed finding a way to conjure up an aesthetic that honors personal, visceral reactions AND ‘objective’ scholarship and study…and deals with communal, historical values like those Mr. Kersey refers to. Sean has a point, and it’s a point I’m working with… and that is that the choice of non-traditional forms should involve very careful consideration… consideration that involves not just developers and the city and architects, but the wider community – potential users, historians, artists. I know architects would often hate the idea and perhaps get all Ayn Randy… but I really believe that deep ‘crowdsourcing’ – letting architects teach the public and the public teach architects and each other would build community – and better buildings and spaces and places.

    I would love to tour the city with architects and learn from them. I have done no formal study. I just read. My approach to place and space and buildings comes often not from architecture, but from phenomelogists like Gaston Bachelard, geographers like Yi-Fu Tuan, and psychologists like James Hillman. For several years I hosted on and a forum called “The Poetics of Objects and Space.” I learned a lot from people about the way they inhabit places and hold objects… and use intellect to nurture those enclosures and embraces. As a teacher, I know how ideas can make people see. Bring on the ideas!

  18. In response to Sean Kersey, I wish I had seen an alien spaceship. Aren’t schools supposed to be cheerful places to learn? This one is anything but. And as for asking neighbors as to whether they like that design, I drive by it often, which makes me what? People who are doing public buildings have a certain responsibility to the community…because we all have to look at it!

  19. Re: stanley collyer, have you been inside the school? Your perception of the outside is all that seems to be in play here. In years to come, that building could be completely covered in ivy, and it could completely different. Again though, that’s the outside. Driving by something does not make you a neighbor. People living on Glenmary Avenue or in the cemetery I reckon are neighbors. I walk past many buildings daily to work, and I wouldn’t consider them neighbors. The only responsibility builders have are to the cities that permit them and the customers that pay them. The opinions of you or I are just that, opinions. We have no vested stake other than that.

  20. i’m really glad that almost no architects agree with you on that, sean. every building takes its place in the public realm (unless buried back down a rural road) and therefore has a responsibility to the public at large. land development code makes sure of that, for one, but there is also a generally accepted ethical role of an architect that he/she has an obligation to honor client, self, and public-at-large. to act as if the public is not a stakeholder would be irresponsible. once the client sells, the building exists for much longer. our work exists in the world and has to act like it.

  21. Stanley makes a really important point: that our public buildings should lead the charge and offer high quality design. In Louisville, it seems the main type of public building being built today is the fire station. Every one so far, Butchertown, Portland, Beechmont, and Worthington, has incorporated traditional design. I think there’s real opportunity for a more modern approach to these structures, especially when they are meant to represent a modernized fire fighting force. (Another public building, the Newburg Library, did a nice job of bringing modern architecture into the community.)

    It gets a little more fuzzy with private buildings like Presentation’s. I believe that a building can be modern, traditional, post-modern, contemporary, what have you, as long as it’s designed and built with quality. There are, of course, exceptions and I have already pointed out my own misgivings concerning the traditional Chamberlain Pointe. There are good and bad traditional buildings just like good and bad modern buildings.

    Regarding the new Cooper Union building (It’s beautiful. Look it up if you haven’t seen it, I walk by it every day), it’s a superb example of modern architecture and in its case I am very glad that traditional architecture was not employed (I would have been a little surprised if it had, honestly, considering it’s Cooper Union). This gets to the issue of what is a landmark.

    There are many things that can tip one off that a building achieves landmark status. It can have situational prominence such as a building that terminated a vista or it can differ from its surroundings like a modern building contrasting with a historic backdrop or it can acquire cultural significance over time, among others.

    We used the term loosely in this competition. On the corner of Fourth and Breckinridge, the real landmark is, of course, the historic Presentation Academy building itself.

    In any urban environment, there need to be buildings that just exist without prominence. They just make up the background and fulfill their respective functions in the city. That’s not a license to build ugly or drab buildings, it’s just acknowledging that every building in the city shouldn’t act like a landmark. These buildings serve to highlight the landmark. They showcase the prominence of the new monument and elevate it beyond just another building in a row.

    This point falls into line with what Stanley and Archintent are saying about a need for modern architecture and what Ken is saying about context. To an extent, a landmark is going to buck context slightly, but also play within the rules. The Cooper Union building looks like nothing else around but respects the urban pattern and surrounding building heights. Even a traditional or historic landmark displays this as it sets itself apart from context in various ways.

    Anyway, these are complicated issues that have and will continue to challenge architects and citizens and its good to see such a discussion going on for Louisville.

  22. I think ultimately my point is that regardless of what the public thinks, the only question to ask is “Did Presentation get what they asked for and are they happy with it?” Architects can design what they want, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the client has to go with them. It’s fine to say that architects have a responsibility to the public, but they also have a responsibility to the people that actually pay them to architect. In the end, a client gets what they want regardless of the architect.

  23. Nice addition to the mix, Jim. You know, it you Google Streetview that site, you can stand at the intersection of Breckinridge and 4th and see what it used to look like with the deco building ( I love Deco, and feel the loss, but damn, that bleeding concrete, devoid of foliage or or patina, looks pretty tawdry). What we have now is catty-corner brick educational builds flanked by stone church, and rather uninspired brick and concrete. It’s worth thinking about the mood set by the brick: think, well, not to stretch it too much… Harvard Yard

    On the other hand imagine the old Deco reimagined… say:

    Or imagine, say, this:

    Just sayin… lots of ways to be…

  24. I agree with Kersey that it is mainly about the client. In Europe the client (often the state) is much more sophisticated when it comes to design that is the case here in the U.S. That is why it is almost the exception here to find a client who is very knowledgeable when it comes to design. They may think they are; but often we end up with something like Presentation Academy. Unfortunately, Louisville abounds with such examples.

  25. Ken,
    We did an article on that Victoria and Albert Museum competition that Libeskind won. Since the facades of the two wings of that museum were very busy, and the Libeskind proposal even busier, I thought that the Grimshaw proposal was a better idea, much quieter, but somehow fitting better into that space.

  26. Man, what a bunch of snobbolinks. I love all types of architecture. I’m not frozen in period or style. The Pres building is great for what it is, a big building to handle sports etc. Its fortress style is not at odds with its purpose, and certainly ties it to the main building. Its height and seat next to the sidewalk make it a comfortable urban building. It’s certainly not cutting edge, but cutting edge could look pretty stupid sitting in the middle of old Louisville. I just don’t understand the depth of criticism I’m reading here.

  27. After reading some of the comments posted here, I was surprised to see how critical some people were of what I think is a beautiful and tastefully designed building. Its seems that some people are always quick to denounce new buildings built with traditional aesthetics as poorly designed, unimaginative, and seemingly insulting to modern architectural trends. I would like to argue opposite; I say that we need more buildings like the Presentation Academy Arts and Athletic Center. Why? Because they are UNIQUE. I think that the biggest flaw of what are called “modern” and “ultra-modern” buildings is that they are designed and constructed with no context in mind. Now I am not denouncing modern architecture; I think that it can be beautiful, and I love how new building materials and technology are allowing the designers to express themselves artistically in our built environment. But these buildings have no regional identity, no context; you take a modern skyscraper an place it in the downtown area of any major city in the world and (from an architectural standpoint) it wouldn’t be out of place. Historic architecture, on the other hand, contains elements that can give an observer clues about where it was built. You couldn’t take a commercial storefront from East Market Street and plant it in downtown Berlin or London, because the traditional architectural themes that developed there are very different. They are extensions of the cultures of those countries. Reflecting those themes that identify historic architecture is what I love the most about the Arts and Athletics Center; elements like simple brick detailing and a rough stone (limestone?) foundation are architectural elements that scream to the casual observer “I HAVE CONTEXT, AND THAT CONTEXT IS LOUISVILLE!”. I think that the average Louisvilian understands this to a certain degree. Why else would traditional architecture be in demand? So as we go about rebuilding our fair city, lets not look down upon buildings like these as cheap imitations, but as the expression of Louisville’s unique architectural style and through that the expression (and maybe even preservation) of our unique culture.