Field Trip: Chattanooga, Tennessee

Shaw Contract Group recently announced the five winners of its 2013 Design Is… Awards competition. The designers behind the winning projects, featured in Contract‘s September issue, were honored by Shaw this past weekend in Chattanooga, Tennessee (Shaw’s manufacturing facilities are located nearby in Northern Georgia). I was honored to attend this celebration, meet the winners, and explore a new city.

It was my first chance to visit Chattanooga, despite having grown up in a bordering state. I didn’t have many preconceived notions, but I left feeling that this city is truly a special place. I’m told it wasn’t always so; in 1969, Chattanooga was dubbed the “dirtiest city in America.” This formerly grimy, industrial city is now a model of sustainable urban development. Beginning in the early 1990s, the government and private investors undertook several projects that would revitalize the city and enhance its natural landscape.


The largest freshwater aquarium in the world opened in downtown Chattanooga along the Tennessee River in 2005. Designed by Cambridge Seven Associates, this project spurred further development in the area.


A public art project titled “The Passage” celebrates Cherokee history and culture and provides a new pedestrian link between downtown and the river.


A new 13-mile path hugs the riverfront, and many residents use it for walking, jogging, and riding bikes.


Speaking of bikes, the Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System launched last year (before NYC’s similar Citi Bike system). Yearly membership is only $75 and $30 for students.


The Walnut Street Bridge connects downtown Chattanooga with the North Shore. It was once the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. Here, tents are being set up for the annual Wine Over Water festival, which benefits historic preservation efforts in the city.


Designed by Randall Stout Architects and built in 2005, the glass Holmberg Bridge connects the Walnut Street Bridge to the Bluff View Arts District, and frames views toward the aquarium.


Stout also designed a 2005 addition to the Hunter Museum of American Art, which is perched atop a bluff overlooking the river.


The modern addition adjoins the original museum, an Edwardian-style mansion.


On the opposite side of the mansion is a 1975 Brutalist-style addition by a local firm. I must admit, it’s my favorite portion!

Chattanooga continues to innovate, and can now make the claim to be the first city in the Western Hemisphere to offer one-gigabit-per-second fiber internet speeds to all residents. I didn’t test that out much as I was too busy taking in all the amazing views. I can’t wait to return to this beautiful city again someday!


I wasn’t the only Contract editor on the road this weekend. Associate Editor Cody Calamaio attended IIDEX in Toronto and toured some interesting new projects in the city. She’ll share her experiences on the blog later this week. 

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