In mid-November I spent a long weekend in Chattanooga, TN visiting a good high school friend who recently purchased a house. It was my first time visiting the state of Tennessee, and growing up as a Yankee, I didn’t really have a sense of the state’s identity. I knew about the historic TVA authority, that VW made cars in Chattanooga, the Vanderbilts, Nashville lore, Graceland and the state’s impact on the Civil War. Apart from that and working toward my quest for “identity”, I was also intrigued about my perceptions on the cultural-geopolitics which has formed the state over time. As a landlocked state, it’s bordered by 8 other very different states, and for some reason I was fascinated to experience what this geographical arrangement looks like. For instance, i wondered if Tennessee would simply express itself as a mix of all these border states. Or similarly, If Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri had a child, would it be Tennessee? This visit would help test my wild theory.
If you made it through the rambling above, here a few of my key highlights and observations:
- The best way to get an idea of the Chatt topography is to survey it from a high point. In this case, its Point Park, a memorial park that overlooks the Lookout Mountain Battlefield and the city. It covers 10 acres and is scattered with several historic tablets and monuments, Confederate artillery positions, and an incredible scenic overlook. A theme of the park is peace between the North and South, and the best contribution to this is the New York Peace Memorial. This park is part of a national military park, which is overseen by the NPS and provides many opportunities for learning about the site history from early Native Americans to the events during the Civil War. A great viewing spot is around the Ochs Memorial Observatory, which overlooks the city and the amazing Tennessee River features such as Moccasin Bend.
- Chattanooga 21st Century Waterfront Park. This was designed and planned by Hargreaves Associates and celebrates the original founding of Chattanooga by inserting this history throughout the park. The park’s design reconnects the city to its riverfront very beautifully by taking into account the nearby gateways and cultural assets such as infrastructure, other parks, the aquarium and art gallery extensions. A cool aspect is the park’s designed role in flood control for the river and answers the intriguing question of “how can we craft mitigation and adaptive techniques for flood control into the landscape seamlessly without interfering with the park’s primary goal of a civic place for multiple uses?”
- Chattanooga Renaissance Park. Also designed by Hargreaves, This 23.5 acre park lies on Chattanooga’s North Shore and occupies a former industrial site. A major design challenge was working with and around around an intermittent stream draining over 175 acres of urban watershed cuts through the site. This feature was also contributing to significant non-source point pollution of the Tennessee River. The solution included a strategy to remove buried waste and treat it on site rather than be exported to landfills. The creation of a wetland system now collects and cleans runoff before releasing into the Tennessee River. There’s also a lot of new mixed use and residential development in the works. Great example of how landscape architecture can improve spaces to ensure that neighboring areas can reach their full potential.
- Hunter Museum of American Art. I accessed The Hunter Museum of American Art from the north side of the river at Renaissance Park via the John Ross Bridge and along the Riverfront Parkway. The complex is sited in a prominent, exposed high point location on the river and was built in three stages over time to reflect the classical revival [original 1904 classical revival mansion designed by Abram Garfield], a brutalist addition built in 1975, and a 2005 entrance addition designed by Randall Stout. The museum’s collections are strong in the Hudson River School, 19th century genre painting, American Impressionism, the Ashcan School, early modernism, regionalism, and post World War II modern and contemporary art. I loved the glass bridge connecting the parkway to the complex.
- University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The new LEED-certified library was recently built as an anchor to the university, as it aims to integrate many campus partnerships with academic departments, learning centers, IT units and resource centers. The 5 story, ~130,000 sq ft building was a joint venture between architects Derthick, Henley & Wilkerson as well as Artech. This facility truly speaks to the progressive idea that libraries should be information and resource hubs. Not just books, but a central location to go for most types of supports anticipated by the users.
Now, back to my theory. I think because I only visited one area in the state for a short time, its hard to make a complete verdict, so that’s on hold for now. We were closest to the Georgia and Virginia borders, and I certainly experienced a convergence of dialects, regional cuisines and even natural land formations. Chatt lies in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and experiences a unique four season year in a southern state almost like Asheville, NC. I think in the end, we’re all proud of where we come from and have a lot to celebrate about our respective states, and that makes each state unique. In America, the melting pot effect is important, and its not immune to the great state of Tennessee. And that’s my Chattanooga thoughts in 20 minutes.