Nashville Urban Design

Our founding connection to the Civic Design Center in Nashville keeps us engaged in urban design for the state’s capital.

“An architect should be able to design anything from a spoon to a city.” -Adolf Loos

Students in Prof. T.K. Davis’s Urban Design Studio at the Civic Design Center in Nashville spend each summer envisioning urban reformation and design for the Nashville area.

The experience of this off-campus study is unparalleled. Students discover the challenges of participatory planning, an approach they would not typically encounter in an architecture curriculum. Working together with citizens from diverse backgrounds, they learn how to clearly communicate ideas to non-professionals, work collaboratively and build a consensus while being immersed in a living laboratory–the city.

Students also connect their ideas to real-life problems to address needs in Nashville.

When healing a neighborhood is the object, students’ work has a certain edge, immediacy and authenticity that couldn’t exist without this real-world experience.

Recently, students faced a real-life problem of identifying a potential site for a new Amazon headquarters in Nashville, a city that is experiencing challenges with its exciting growth.  Nashville was on the short list for the Amazon HQ2, and students’ design proposals incorporated residential and commercial property on a multi-acre site near downtown.


Students address real urban architectural design issues in the state capital as they work alongside professionals in the Civic Design Center and with distinguished alumni. They make valuable contributions to the future of the city.

T.K. Davis, Professor

The combination of academic rigor and civic responsibility has become an essential component of our partnership with the Civic Design Center, and our connection to CDC is deep.

In 2000, now-Prof. Emeritus Mark Schimmenti and other key stakeholders founded the center to engage many voices to elevate the quality of Nashville’s built environment. Prof. Schimmenti served as the first design director, and in 2004, Prof. Davis assumed the role while continuing his faculty duties in Knoxville. Deeper still, alumnus Gary Gaston serves at the executive director for CDC, hosting our studios and mentoring college interns.

Prof. Davis’s studios are not theoretical. Students in these studios attack real issues in Nashville.

Recently, the studio envisioned new uses of the city’s circa 1906 Neuhoff slaughterhouse after touring the 600,000-square-foot property. Designs included rooftop dining spaces, full-glass walls and sustainable options including microhousing using reclaimed shipping containers. An example of the inter-disciplinary studios in the college, Landscape Architecture and Architecture students participated in the studio.

Another studio examined TVA’s abandoned nuclear reactor site in nearby Hartsville, and students considered counter-proposals to the development of the landscape. Students contributed proposals for Nashville’s Centennial Park Visitor Center, and in 2012, students’ designs influenced the city’s decision to build The Boathouse on the Cumberland River.