Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Most Scenic City residents know that Chattanooga is much different now than it was 25 years ago, but not many people fully comprehend the process through which that transformation occurred.
Christian Rushing, an urban designer and former employee of the Urban Design Studio, wants to change that.
“Downtown didn’t just happen,” he said. “All the great places we enjoy today are because hundreds of people spent time working on these projects. We have what we have because someone woke up every morning thinking about these places.”
The hundreds of people Rushing remembers are the people who worked at Chattanooga’s Urban Design Studio, a former design agency that was funded through the city, University of Tennessee, Lyndhurst Foundation and Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency. From 1981 until 2005 the studio produced plans and recommendations that resulted in the creation of places like Miller Plaza, Waterhouse Pavilion, the Tennessee Aquarium, the 21st Century Waterfront and a renewed Main Street.
In an effort to help more people access the narrative of the Urban Design Studio and show its influence on Chattanooga, Rushing has opened a short-term exhibition called the “Urban Design Retrospective.”
“The project has two components,” he said. “The first is an online archive that’s overall goal was to research and canvas the community to collect as much of the studio’s produced work as possible. The second part is the exhibition where we’ve taken excellent examples of that work that helps tell Chattanooga’s story from an urban planning angle.”
From now through Oct. 25, the public is invited to visit the exhibition at 831 Chestnut St. from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday-Thursday. On display are models, renderings and plans for places that now exist in Chattanooga and some that never became a reality, with the full body of work available online.
“I’m very pleased with the way the space turned out,” said Rushing of the exhibition. “But I think the thing that I’m most pleased about is not how good it looks but the fact that all of this work is available to everyone.”
According to him, the Design Studio and its leader Stroud Watson were influential in teaching everyday Chattanoogans about design and the importance of urban planning.
“I think one of the things that the Design Studio did was establish a community vocabulary of design that not a lot of communities have,” said Rushing. “The Design Studio was an educational institution, not just for artchitects and students but for the community as a whole.”
The recent Urban Design Challenge presented by the River City Company was reminiscent of the Design Studio days, Rushing said, but not even that community initiative compares to the Design Studio’s legacy.
“The great value of the Design Studio as an organization was that it could stick with ideas over a 10-year period,” he said. “That’s the kind of time frame we are talking about on some of these projects and that’s a longer cycle than a mayor’s, city council or board’s term.”
The Urban Design Retrospective was funded through a partnership of the Benwood Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation, River City Company and Watson Fund. For more information about the retrospective visit www.chattanoogastudio.com.