UT architecture students reimagine Nashville's riverfront

Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 10:05pm

A group of University of Tennessee architecture students are sharing a bold vision for Nashville’s downtown riverfront. And that vision — currently on display at the Nashville Civic Design Center — will forever be marked by the memory of a classmate whose untimely death during the semester inspired the students to move forward, in part, to honor her memory.

Last semester, UT associate professor of architecture T.K. Davis oversaw 13 students who journeyed from Knoxville three times to study the downtown Nashville segment bordered by the Cumberland River, Fifth Avenue, Rolling Mill Hill and the Neuhoff Complex. The project took a tragic turn when graduate student Ella Scheuer passed away mid-semester. 

“As a result, we lost several weeks to shock and grieving, and we are still working that through,” Davis said.

Despite the setback, the students expertly delivered a detailed wooden model and 13 massive panels with multiple images offering an array of options for reimagining the riverfront. 

“We don’t pretend to have all the right answers, but we do believe we are asking many of the right questions at the right time,” said Davis, adding that the 13 students logged about 4,300 hours on the project. “And that can be more valuable to the community than simply pretending to have the right answers.”

Whether firms handling future riverfront work will incorporate the students’ concepts and recommendations — which include buildings and public spaces — is uncertain. But Gary Gaston, NCDC design director, said the focus on vacant lots could spur consideration for future infill. 

Project highlights include framing Public Square with a new building that matches The Stahlman’s scale and height but with a contemporary exterior; infilling the Hard Rock Cafe parking lot with a mixed-use structure housing an arts museum and residences; and Rolling Mill Hill buildings that use shipping containers for living and working. 

“The beauty of student urban design work,” Davis said, “is that, in an unthreatening way, it floats many different ideas, like trial balloons, which can elicit response and debate.”