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Solution of the Month:

Take It to the Bridge

Hastings Architecture Associates
Nashville, Tennessee

A former barge manufacturer's headquarters launches a sustainable riverfront plan.

By David Sokol
February 2013
Courtesy 2012 Jim Roof Creative, Inc.

Visitors to Nashville in the 1990s might have looked askance at the east bank of the Cumberland River. To build a new football stadium for the Tennessee Titans, public entities had demolished this former manufacturing and shipping zone with the exception of the abandoned headquarters of the barge maker Nashville Bridge Company. What warranted saving it? First opened in 1908, NABRICO was neither exemplary of industrial-era architecture, nor did its small floor plates spell no-brainer condo conversion. It stood in the shadow of the pedestrian Shelby Street Bridge, and in neglected contrast to the gleaming stadium now known as LP Field.

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Although sparing NABRICO the wrecking ball defied preservation logic back then, today it couldn’t make more sense. Since the recent completion of a renovation led by Nashville firm Hastings Architecture Associates for the city’s Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, the structure helps anchor a redevelopment initiative whose scale and programming reaches far beyond the stadium alone. 

NABRICO actually comprises three volumes; six-story and three-story volumes were added to the 5,000-square-foot original building in 1924 and 1965, respectively. The municipal development agency tapped Hastings to modernize the core and shell, as well as the 20,000-square-foot compound’s mechanicals and life safety. Instead of squeezing systems into existing footprints, Hastings constructed a new core immediately to the east and bridged old and new via a largely glazed six-story connector.

The decision to build fresh was not without its own constraints. The modern wing had to slip between NABRICO and a gas line and rail right of way, and any construction could not undo soil remediation and encapsulation that had been completed in preparation for LP Field. Despite the parameters, the new east elevation of the building has a confident, iconographic quality. The circulation tower is clad in Cor-ten mesh, which terminates in a slight curve at top to recall the vessels that the Nashville Bridge Company had once launched from this very site. Fire stairs project southward from the evocative steel expanse.

While adaptive reuse is inherently sustainable, Hastings’ unprecious treatment of NABRICO improves the building’s environmental performance equally boldly. Ground source heat pump, solar hot water, smart operable windows, and automated floor-by-floor electricity monitoring are just several of the strategies working in tandem to reduce annual energy costs by 46 percent.

Similar care has been paid to water. David Powell, the Hastings principal in charge of this project, says, “During an average rainfall, the site is designed so all of the stormwater runoff is absorbed or collected and reused, and does not leave the property boundary.” The roof and patio, totaling 7,300 square feet, capture rainwater. Even condensate from the rooftop air-conditioning unit is accounted for. Almost 173,000 gallons of water is expected to be collected—then used to flush low-flow toilets and urinals—reducing total water usage by 32 percent over traditional buildings of the same size. In all, NABRICO, since redubbed The Bridge Building, is expected to earn LEED-Platinum certification.

The Bridge Building marks the northern edge of Cumberland Park, designed by the Cambridge, Massachusetts, office of Hargreaves Associates and developed simultaneously. As Powell puts it, “the projects share services and solutions.” Public restrooms and food concession are housed in two new one-story volumes clad in glass brick, which nestle near the jutting fire stair. Park offices occupy the renovated historic building (other current tenants are the Southern Environmental Law Center, the not-for-profit Cumberland River Compact, and Infinity Restaurant Group). The adjacent projects share irrigation water from a combined rainwater cistern, as well as a dramatic, LED-illuminated volume designed by Hastings that provides elevator and stair links from the datum to the Shelby Street Bridge.

Together, they also form the cornerstone of the Nashville Riverfront Master Plan, the execution of which is being overseen by the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency. Conceived by Hargreaves, the scheme envisions additional green space on the east bank of the Cumberland, some of it doubling as permeable parking surface for LP Field; wetlands reclamation; a north–south artery that unites disparate enclaves of East Nashville; and a multi-level Riverwalk boasting mixed-use properties.

As this master plan comes to fruition, the symbolic resonance of The Bridge Building should only strengthen. “The Bridge Building is essentially the only vertical element in the development plan,” Powell says, “It has become the beacon of the riverfront’s revitalization, while memorializing the industrial heritage of the east bank.” Indeed, this centurion has transformed, from a preservation candidate of questionable merit to a local landmark.

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