Nashville is all about country music. But if the city’s environmental advocates have anything to do with it, the city will soon be equally known to the world for its iconic architecture and commitment to sustainability. Several new people-centered hot spots have sprouted in the area, including the Bridge Building, known as NABRICO as a shorthand for Nashville Bridge Company, its historical tenant, and McCabe Community Center, the first such building to be LEED-certified in Nashville. Both projects were by Hastings Architecture Associates, whose smart, responsible designs complement the city’s increasingly health-conscious culture even as they stay true to the region’s roots.
The Bridge Building’s dominant frontal feature is a seven-story rust-red sculpture that enlivens the former NABRICO building and gives a face-lift to this artifact of turn-of-the-century Nashville. Formerly the site of the city’s barge-fabrication industry, it was transformed from a brownfield site into a sustainable showpiece that is a beacon for an expansive riverfront redevelopment initiative, which aims to revitalize the banks of Nashville’s Cumberland River. The investment was timely. “We had some significant public spaces, but some of them were becoming outdated,” says David Powell, a principal at Hastings Architecture. “So quite a few years ago the Nashville Riverfront Redevelopment master plan was adopted to address the need to have more greenways and public space.”
The Bridge Building boasts a checklist of green features that puts it on track for LEED Platinum certification, including a geothermal heat-pump system, rainwater harvesting and filtration, solar water heaters, a building automation system, LED lighting, and optimal condition indicators, which determine when the weather is best to open the high-performance operable windows and when mechanical ventilation is most efficient. The building also houses a Metro Parks office and amenities that support the adjacent Adventure Play Park and Cumberland Park.
“That the city would make the commitment to respect heritage but not let it stand in the way of the future and use it as an opportunity for progressive thinking is really significant,” Powell says. “It would have been very easy to restore the Bridge Building and walk away, or tear it down. There were a lot of questions about why it was still up. It was important to have this park and greenway system and take a chance to [create] a LEED Platinum building, for the city to say, ‘We’ll set the tone for the future.’”
The McCabe Community Center also signals a healthier horizon for residents of the music city. It’s become a hub of activity and a hit with local residents since it opened in 2011. With a basketball court, dance studio, indoor track, and a neighboring baseball field and golf course, it’s a natural destination for recreation, but it also has an arts and crafts room and outdoor amphitheatre to attract patrons looking for a more relaxing experience. “It’s monumental and symbolic for the city to be the beacon for contributions toward outdoor space and activity,” Powell says. “You can’t quantify the benefits or contribution to the city. Numbers would be a footnote.”
The McCabe building responds to unique site constraints even as it invigorates its landscape. In fact, some of the most effective landscape features occurred naturally and merely needed to be preserved. Hawkins Partners’ landscape design is the picture of efficiency, with every feature providing function as well as beauty. Rain gardens, pervious pavement, and a green roof offer wastewater solutions, while mature oak trees that were protected during construction provide natural shade on the hillside.
Additional sustainable features include FSC-certified cedar siding and gymnasium floor, materials with high recycled-content, and high-performance glazing. “I believe there’s a sense of pride among the residents of the neighborhood for the new community center because of its accessibility and amenities,” says Chuck Gannaway, an associate at Hastings Architecture. In 2012, McCabe received an Excellence in Design award from the Nashville chapter of the Urban Land Institute.
Nashville’s surrounding cities and towns are similarly reinvesting in their public spaces. Just 20 miles south of Nashville, in the heart of historic downtown Franklin, Tennessee, the Franklin Theatre reopened in June 2011 with all the glamour of its 1937 debut but with far more advanced systems. (Fittingly, the restored venue screened Gone with the Wind on opening night.)
In 2007, the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County purchased the theater with the intent of creating a state-of-the-art, multiuse venue. The design and reconstruction of the 320-seat theater manages to balance a historical aesthetic while upgrading technologies and acoustics. Sustainability played a key role, specifically in the design of the mechanical systems, the selection of finishes, and the reuse of the existing structure. Now, the Franklin Theatre is on target to become one of the few historic buildings of its type to receive LEED certification.
“The grand reopening of the Franklin Theatre was such an anticipated event and celebrated with an overwhelming sense of pride,” Gannaway says. “I’d never witnessed the opening of a building that included a block party. It has also had a positive economic impact on downtown restaurant and retail businesses.”
Nashville has laid a foundation that will help it become more architecturally significant as well as more sustainable—two things that make a city livable. The people at Hastings Architecture see this as a very positive development and are aware of the role they can play in the future of the city. “I think there’s a growing awareness of sustainability and energy use not only in Nashville, but all over,” Gannaway says. “We have a mayor who recognizes the importance of health and fitness. People are moving back to the city, so they have the option of walking to the neighborhood market or coffee house. Architecture can play a part. We do what we can to create spaces that contribute to a sense of place.”