June 29, 2022 Summer Urban Design Studio in Nashville Now Led by Urban Design Duo

Since 2004, our School of Architecture has hosted a summer Urban Design Studio at the Civic Design Center in Nashville. The studio was inspired by our involvement in the city starting in 1995, when Professor Mark Schimmenti began teaching urban design classes there, and by our work to help found the Civic Design Center in 2000. Beginning in 2004, Professor Thomas K. Davis was named the design director of the CDC and launched the School of Architecture’s off-campus summer Nashville Urban Design Studio. In summer 2022, captaincy of the helm of the summer studio is shifting to a pair of Nashville-based urban designers, who are leading our students to investigate the role of Nashville’s physical history and infrastructure in defining new projects for the city.

TK Davis headshot
Thomas K. Davis

For 12 summers, Davis admirably taught the Urban Design Studio, which connects academic rigor with civic responsibility. By his direction, students gained real-world experience as they produced design proposals that addressed topical and often urgent needs in Nashville and surrounding areas. Students discovered the challenges of participatory planning, an approach they would not typically encounter in an architecture curriculum. Working together with citizens from diverse backgrounds, they learned how to clearly communicate ideas to non-professionals through drawings, models and dialogues. They learned to work collaboratively to build consensus among participants while being immersed in a living laboratory–the city. To assist, Davis secured financial support for the program from Nashville-based firms Dryden Architecture, Smith Gee Studio and TM Partners.

Davis’s contributions to the design education of hundreds of students and the resulting impact on the fabric of Nashville cannot be overstated, so when he announced he was stepping down from teaching the Nashville-based summer studio at the end of summer 2021, we understood the critical importance the selection of the next generation of teaching professionals would have. While Davis will continue teaching Nashville-focused studios in fall and spring and visiting Nashville with his students several times each semester for design reviews with distinguished members of Nashville’s design and development community, the momentum and historical importance of the summer studio’s contributions to the city must be preserved, while also continuing to bring Nashville’s future into focus.

We’re pleased to announce that beginning this summer, the Urban Design Studio will be taught by Clay Adkisson, B.Arch, ’11, and Will Rosenthal. Adkisson and Rosenthal met as Master of Architecture and Urban Design students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. They now are managing partners of OPENWORKS Design + Development in Nashville, a firm that specializes in urban design and believes vibrant, accessible, walkable and connected urban fabrics create value for all. A unique aspect of OPENWORKS is its broad approach to a project, beyond the limiting boundaries of the site, to engage strategic development opportunities for a community.

headshot of Clay Adkisson
Clay Adkisson

Adkisson and Rosenthal are co-teaching the studio. “Working together, we hope to make this studio an important moment in each student’s design education, building on the foundation Professor T.K. Davis created,” Adkisson said. “As a proud alumnus of Professor Davis’s urban design studios, I can say he certainly inspired me to pursue a career in urban design.

“Professor Davis built this studio from its inception, working to attract energy and smart investment to Nashville in a time when the city was up and coming. Now, thanks to his efforts, Nashville is there. Building on that momentum, we look forward to introducing important concepts including connectivity, social equity, and stewardship into the conversation. We hope students will graduate the studio well-equipped with the right tool kit to tackle work in any American city experiencing growth and change and able to help guide equitable development in those places they call home.”

Will Rosenthal headshot
Will Rosenthal

During the summer, students in the Nashville Urban Design Studio are seeing Nashville with new eyes. They are part of the downtown hustle and bustle, attending classes and sharing studio space at the Civic Design Center’s newly renovated offices. In addition to learning and working in Nashville, students are enjoying a variety of outside perspectives and seminars.

“We are fortunate to bring in outside critics and reviewers from globally-renowned urban design offices like Sasaki, SOM, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, HOK, Utile, and WRT over the course of the summer to help students learn about the problems facing the contemporary American city and to inform their strategies for Nashville,” Rosenthal said. “We will also spend time with many Nashville-based designers and practitioners who are tackling urban design issues here in real-time, including HASTINGS Architecture, Dryden Studio, TM Partners, Smith Gee Studio, Gresham Smith, Hawkins Partners, and Firma Studio. We hope this blend of professional exposure and academic practice gives students a leg-up on the race for internships and employment as they continue forward in their education.”

Through financial support from Dryden Architecture, Smith Gee Studio and TM Partners, the studio also is visiting other key American cities, including an in-person exploration of Philadelphia. On this trip, students met with leaders of Onion Flats Architecture to learn about the firm’s strategies in designing in a major urban area.

people in a shaded strucure
Students visit Onion Flats Architecture in Philadelphia

Adkisson and Rosenthal are leading students through an introduction to urban design as both a discipline and profession and a study of the broader American city through mapping and seminar classes. In the design studio, students are focusing on addressing issues of the American city endemic to Nashville. The city is experiencing unprecedented growth, adding more new buildings and square footage to its urban core in the past 10 years than previously existed in the entire city.

“While articles about tourists, tech companies and professional sports facilities will likely continue to dominate the development headlines, our interest is teaching the students how to analyze the broader picture,” Adkisson said. “As part of this inquiry, we will explore questions like ‘how are neighborhoods changing and displacing long-term residents;’ ‘how should the city address its backlog of housing needed at every income level, especially affordable housing;’ and ‘how can the city’s main arteries and roadways become multifunctional infrastructures for both mobility and mixed-use development’.”

Through a variety of individual and team exercises, students are studying Nashville’s urban fabric via GIS mapping, on-the-ground reconnaissance, and collaborative design charrettes. Through this work, students are diving deeper into their understanding of the roles major roadways play in Nashville and how they influence its growth.

“We are putting our energy into the connectors, those arterial roads and connections that tie downtown Nashville to its urban neighborhoods, suburbs and ex-urban satellite cities,” Rosenthal said. “These areas are very much still urban places, many of which are home to the most change, gentrification and densification the city is currently experiencing. These corridors are both vital pathways for commuters and commerce, but they are also formidable barriers—disconnecting neighborhoods, thwarting pedestrian uses and preferencing transit monocultures.”

people sitting around a table in a meeting
Students engage with Nashvillians at the Civic Design Center

As students progress through the Urban Design Studio this summer, they will engage Nashville by broadening the conversation about the city, the implications of Nashville’s growth, housing needs and connectors. Through this broad look at the city, students will be able to propose design solutions to address mobility within downtown and between downtown and surrounding suburban areas as well as development that invites walking, biking, and mixed use.

Meet Adkisson and Rosenthal

Clay Adkisson and Will Rosenthal founded OPENWORKS in 2015, while they were attending graduate school at Harvard University. In addition to a Bachelor of Architecture from our college, Adkisson earned a Master of Urban Design from Harvard. Rosenthal is a graduate of Eckerd College, where he earned a Bachelor of Environmental Studies, and he also holds a Master in Architecture from Tulane University and a Master of Urban Design from Harvard. Learn more about Adkisson and Rosenthal.

Enjoy images of student work from mid-semester, produced by Matt Baumgartner, Laree Carter, Juan Casem, Eli Fox, Mahmood Kamal, Jacob Layne, Catherine Little, Sydney Neff, KariBeth Propes, Katie Schmidt, Seth Vinscent, Seth York and Joby Zhao.


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