Glass Street in East Chattanooga selected by architects as work project during BoomTown Convention

Architects and community advocates poured into the Glass House Collective headquarters in East Chattanooga Wednesday to begin working on fresh ideas for the area's revitalization. Teams will present the results of their concentrated work sessions on Thursday afternoon. (Photo: Staff)

Authored By Mary Barnett

A group of Tennessee’s top award-winning architects are working pro bono in Chattanooga Wednesday as part of the American Institute of Architects Tennessee convention here this week.

AIA Tennessee and AIA Chattanooga have chosen the Glass Street commercial corridor in East Chattanooga as the focus of their Legacy Project for 2012.

More than 200 attendees have registered for this year’s convention, called BoomTown, which will focus on case studies in Chattanooga’s urban rebirth over the past quarter of a century.

The urban design workshop in East Chattanooga on Wednesday is one of the convention’s major events.

AIA Tennessee Executive Director Connie Wallace said the newly started revitalization work in East Chattanooga will receive a major boost of energy and ideas from 33 of the state’s finest architectural designers who have elected to participate in the workshop at the Glass House Collective Wednesday morning.

If you go

What: Urban design presentations for Glass Street corridor in East Chattanooga

Where: Chattanooga Convention and Trade Center

When: Thursday, July 26, 3-5:30 p.m.

The presentations will take place at the AIA Tennessee chapter’s annual convention.

“Our goal is to inspire people-both designers and the general public-to exchange knowledge and to produce actionable ideas to revitalize this blighted community,” says the convention’s program.

Wallace said it is a part of the personality of most architects to be inclined to give back to communities in meaningful ways such as this.

Idealism plays a role, too.

“Architects love neighborhoods, and they like fixing things. So the idea that they could be a part of a solution that brings vibrancy to a neighborhood that has been neglected is exciting,” Wallace said.

But unlike the recent series of urban design competitionsin Chattanooga that were presented as fictional yet sweeping concepts for key sites in downtown, the pro bono work that will be done for the Glass Street corridor is just the beginning of a very real and active public process, according to local architect Eric Meyers of Elemi, who is also co-chair of this year’s convention.

“It should set out some pretty illustrative goals that they can go work on elicited from teams that really spent time looking at this elbow to elbow with community advocates,” Meyers said.

Small teams will be comprised of architects-most of whom are principals in their own firms-corporate leaders, nonprofit managers, and other community advocates and enthusiasts. Participants have already received comprehensive packets of information that detail results from existing studies on the area, as well as the history, demographics, and current development and investment trends. They will work together in the epicenter of the project site at the headquarters of Glass House Collective.

The public is invited to hear what ideas come from the sessions as each team presents their ideas to convention attendees Thursday afternoon from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Chattanooga Convention and Trade Center.

From there, after the architects return to their less-inspiring jobs dealing with paying clients around the state, the ideas will be brought to the residents of East Chattanooga during a longer public process to see what might be needed and wanted by the people who will be directly affected by any proposed changes in the area.

Glass House Collective’s Teal Thibaud, who handles communications and outreach for the new nonprofit, said many meetings will be planned with all of the neighborhood associations so that everyone can participate in the larger process of charting a future.

“This will let the community pick and choose elements from each [of the team’s ideas] to put together a comprehensive plan,” Thibaud said.

This new partnership with AIA and Chattanooga’s Urban Design Forum is the next major milestone for the organization this summer, after being named recipients of a national $300,000 ArtPlace grant in June. That grant will allow the collective to pursue theirs arts-led revitalization concept by awarding grants to artists to create visual improvements to the corridor.