Twelve senior students from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC) Department of Interior Design took on projects that addressed the adaptive reuse of two historic structures in Chattanooga. The assigned properties were the focus for these small groups who worked with local architects to come up with plausible ways to deal with the problems of the aging buildings.
“For two semesters they researched the properties at the library and they reviewed the deeds at the courthouse,” says UTC instructor Jessica Etheridge. “Working with mentors, they created preliminary proposals and examined whether or not the location will support their ideas.” During the second semester the interior design students produced a set of construction drawings and build a specifications notebook.
From each property, there emerges a winner. UTC Professor of Interior Design, Dana Moody and Cornerstone’s Executive Director Ann Gray collaborate ahead of the fall semester to come up with the challenging structures that will be the subjects of the design competition. This year the privately owned Parkway Tower and the Mayfield Annex, owned by Hamilton County topped the list of desired undesirables. “Parkway Tower was constructed in 1917 to be an electric power plant building,” says Gray. “The foundation is so heavy, architects say it could hold four more stories—that’s either going to be a blessing or a curse.” Gray says. River Street Architecture partner, Terry Barker probably knows more about it than anyone else in town. Maybe, says Barker.
UTC Senior Shelby Griffith worked on the actual Parkway Tower project with her mentor Trey Wheeler of Cogent Architects and she took awards. Griffith now works for Pratt Homes in Chattanooga. “We felt we needed more residential housing in the Southside, says Griffith. She says the structure should fit the Southside district’s rustic urban character. “I tried to keep the original industrial elements.” Her redesign created a structure that would house a bar and restaurant, a maximum number of studio apartment rentals and rooftop amenities. Parkway Tower’s location next to Finley Stadium, Davenport Field and the Pavilion complex work in its favor as a mixed-use structure. “That building was designed by a civil engineer right after World War I, using two bays of the building design for the powerhouse of Hale’s Bar Dam,” says Barker. It was to be the power-receiving end from the generators at the dam that distributed hydroelectric power to Chattanooga.
“Engineers used large safety factors back in that era and the design of the powerhouse was for significantly (more) heavy loads compared to the Tower Building. Using two bays of that design allowed them to use duplicate and parallel construction processes to construct the dam and Tower Building.” The construction process was competing with the Ocoee Dam project for early completion at the time. “The first power project to light a light bulb hanging in the Read House was to be the power supplier for Chattanooga Hotel,” says Barker.“The building has massive, deep foundations to support heavy industrial loads that were never to occur in it.” Its four floors of light-gage steel construction are much less than the load the building was capable of holding. Barker believes more structural calculations would be necessary to prove the actual allowable height. Height limits would also be affected by wind and seismic activity. Either way, the building would be expensive to renovate and maybe even more expensive to tear down. It remains an enigma.
“If I owned the building, I would make it a mixed-use structure with a restaurant, with entertainment and spa on the lower two levels and make the remaining floors and additional floors into condominiums,” muses Barker. “Because of the views toward the city, the river and Lookout Mountain, I would step the additional floors back to allow exterior terraces to orient toward its particular view.” Barker says this would give it the highest elevation penthouse views in Chattanooga and give an iconic form to the shape of the building. “Programmable, colored LED lighting on the exterior would create a night-time skyline feature at this gateway to downtown.”
Although the Mayfield Annex is a building that is still in use and has been the focus of the competition in years past, Senior Kristen Robbs award winning approach took on a neighborhood-within-a-structure theme. With four levels, the redesign would feature a lobby, mail facility, laundry, community rooms and a gym. The second floor would offer a restaurant and support a grocery store for residents as well as the public.
The third and fourth levels would create one-and two-bedroom condominium units that would be in the $500-$700 price range. Robbs was coached by Matt Winget and Sarah Kurtz of Elemi Architects. The Mayfield Annex is an elegant corner property across the street from the Hamilton County Courthouse.