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June 13, 2013

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New market beginning to be ‘social condenser’

The second biggest challenge of designing Enzo's, according to its architect Craig Kronenberg, was relating the building to Main Street and to the public realm. 

"The building was kind of hermetic," said Kronenberg. He and his wife Heidi Hefferlin are principals of Hefferlin+Kronenberg, which designed the building. "It was a florist's warehouse, and it was completely closed up from the street. So we programmed the building to have a public cafe at the corner of Main and Long for reaching out to the community. But the real key to the project was how to get the parking to relate to the building." 

Yes, despite this long-awaited grocery store being poised to become the cornerstone of a walkable neighborhood, the parking was a potential deal killer. The store would need more customers than those who live in the neighborhood, so parking had to work.

At first look, it seemed impossible to Kronenberg. The rear of the building was a loading dock three feet, six inches higher than the parking. His first sketches showed people pushing grocery carts along a series of switchbacks to get from the door to the parking at grade.

But the pieces all came together when Kronenberg realized there was enough room behind the building to turn the entire parking lot into a ramp leading to the entrance.

"That unlocked the whole thing," he said. "It meant that the parking was a sort of automobile procession to the front door, but it also allowed for elevating the outdoor cafe and the entry on Main as a splendid public terrace. There are two front doors. That dual function is reflected in the architecture, with flanking cubes of slate with big overhangs that announce 'entry.' A covered public terrace bridges those two entries.”

With Enzo's open only a month, it's too soon to assess its long-term impact on the neighborhood, but Kronenberg—who lives two-and-a-half blocks away and shops there daily—already sees it becoming a "social condenser," bringing together Southside residents, a Lookout Mountain crowd on their way home and groups of Craftworks employees who buy a couple of six-packs at Enzo's and drink them on the terrace.

"We're finding ourselves walking to Enzo's," says Kronenberg. "In terms of auto trips, it will have the effect of completely eliminating a huge carbon footprint because people who live and work in the area can walk to get their groceries. Enzo's is a diagram of how to do responsible urban design."

He doesn't want to mention "the P word," but I'll go there. 

Enzo's integrates into its urban neighborhood precisely how Publix and Walgreen's should have in North Chattanooga, and might have if former Mayor Littlefield had urged them in that direction instead of caving to their developers' insistence that dumbing down our urban core with suburban design is the only economically feasible way to do business downtown. 

Note to Mayor Berke: Enzo's shows what can happen when a developer allows an architect to use design to solve a problem, rather than steamrolling a generic corporate design over a specific place. The developers of Enzo's have created both a business and a true place, and Enzo's is well on the way to becoming a beloved part of its neighborhood. The North Chattanooga Publix will serve a welcome purpose, but it will be an ugly utility that people pass through as fast as possible on their way to places they care about. In my book, that constitutes damaging the city. Please urge downtown developers to do more projects like Enzo's and no more—never—like Publix and Walgreen's.

Other Hefferlin+Kronenberg Southside projects in the pipeline include a pocket park nearing completion at Long and 17th Street that will double as a play yard for Battle Academy. Kronenberg describes it as a small outdoor room based on the sub-parks of the Tuileries in Paris. A new H+K-designed office building for Southern Surgical Arts is under construction just off Main between Broad and Cowart. And design has begun on 50 apartments to be built in a two renovated timber warehouses on Madison, in the sliver of land between Main Street and the railroad tracks.

What the Southside really needs now, according to Kronenberg, is more affordable rental housing to increase density. "Density creates more opportunities for human interaction," said Kronenberg. "You can abandon your car and hoof it. It's not a suburban lifestyle anymore, you're not always driving around."

Kronenberg sees good urban revitalization as a lot like the surrealist game of “The Exquisite Corpse,” where a piece of paper is folded so that four artists create a portrait by drawing head, chest, genitals and feet independently. 

No matter how much civic planning we do, "People are doing projects separately and are blind to what other people are doing," said Kronenberg, who's heard that a storage warehouse is being built next to one of his new projects. 

But, "Sometimes you get serendipitous relationships like Craftworks moving in and Enzo's opening.”

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June 13, 2013

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