A new exhibition that looks back at nearly a quarter of a century at projects produced and ideas generated by Chattanooga's Urban Design Studio opens this week, but the studio's founder, Stroud Watson, said the retrospective should inspire people to look ahead.
What: Urban Design Studio Retrospective Exhibit
When: Opening reception is Tuesday, July 31 at 5 p.m.,
exhibit hours continue through Oct. 25 on Mondays through Thursdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Where: 831 Chestnut St. in the CitiPark Building
How much: Free
The Urban Design Studio Retrospective is an interactive exhibit that includes drawings, working models, brainstorm notes and archived images from architecture students, professionals and citizens who engaged with the planning and visioning for Chattanooga's downtown from 1980 through the unveiling of the 21st-Century Waterfront in 2005.
The studio was created with the goal of integrating the education of architects with the education of the community on principles, attitudes, goals and visions of good planning and good design in the city.
Although the studio closed in 2005, Watson, who was honored last week by the American Institute of Architects' Tennessee chapter with a Lifetime Achievement Award, said now is a good time to reflect on the process that brought so many ideas to life.
"I feel like this is the beginning, not a legacy, a beginning to reignite our understanding of what we were looking for and to go into the future with absolutely positive values, understanding what we can accomplish. We can still do it, and we will," Watson said.
From the creation of Miller Plaza to the opening of the Tennessee Aquarium and development of new neighborhoods and homes in Cowart Place, the retrospective features early concepts and studies for several parts of downtown and the Riverfront and Southside districts. Some of the drawings and models on view were never executed in the "real world" but highlight the ideas and thought processes that resulted in some of the city's most beloved areas.
Visitors to the exhibit will also learn about some of the stories and struggles members of the studio experienced over the years, such as making sure the plans for the Tennessee Aquarium's plaza would be an open space and feel like a park, defying the architect's original proposal to enclose it as a walled-off entrance to the new attraction.
"We're not building a front yard for the aquarium; we're building a front porch for the city," Watson is quoted as declaring in the early 1990s. The studio pushed for the design to be guided by the principles of inclusivity and access to all, exhibit material states.
Those principles defended by the studio were central to core beliefs employed on all the projects over the years, intended to respect the public realm of the city with careful design considerations for the streets, parks, plazas and blocks "that form the living room of the community."
Christian Rushing, local planner and urban designer responsible for creating the Retrospective Exhibit, said it comes at a good time to talk about what is next while respecting the past.
"There now seems to be a kind of rebirth in the conversation about urban design and issues of urbanism. This is a way to kind of reinforce and add another element to this kind of newborn conversation and highlight some of the really cool things that came about in our city because of good design," Rushing said.
Rushing said he researched and reached out to the studio's former students who are practicing professionals all over the country to locate some of the studio's original material. Through the process, he was also able to locate more than 800 slides that have been digitized for a new online archive.
The exhibition is on view beginning Tuesday, July 31 through Oct. 25.