It’s fingernail biting time for four Nashville architecture firms. At stake is the commission for a new symphony concert hall. A $75 million project in a recession is a big prize, but the high anxiety is about more than money. The hall will be a major civic space, guaranteeing the team that lands it status as a monument maker.
As with the arena and downtown library, local architects have teamed with more nationally prominent firms. The buddy system adds greater experience with performance space design and large-scale projects to the collective résumé.
The symphony’s building committee, chaired by philanthropist Steve Turner, has narrowed the list of 10 original entrants to:
♦ Robert A. M. Stern Architects of New York, with Hart Freeland Roberts of Brentwood. This is the team that brought you the downtown library. The Stern firm’s résumé is not heavy on performance spaces, although it did design Houston’s Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The word on the street is that a key reason the Stern team made the short list is because some members of the building committee have expressed a preference for the classical style, which is a Stern specialty. (Witness Nashville’s hugely popular library.)
♦ David M. Schwarz Architectural Services of Washington, D.C., with Nashville’s Earl Swensson Associates and Hastings Architecture Associates. Schwarz designed Bass Hall, the performing arts center in Ft. Worth that wowed the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s contingent on the intra-city visit there in 1999. Swensson’s recent downtown buildings are corporate: the BellSouth “Batman” tower and the Third and Commerce office building.
♦ Morris Architects of Houston, with Tuck-Hinton Architects of Nashville. Morris is a firm with a solid track record in performance architecture, including the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte and an association with Stern on Houston’s Hobby Center. Several local civic places bear the T-H imprint: the Bicentennial Mall, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The site for the new hall has yet to be announced, But Metro officials say the most probable symphony hall site is where the fire hall stands on Fourth Avenue South, assuming Metro Fire Department officials and Metro Council members agree. The deal being negotiated with the mayor’s office has the city giving land and necessary infrastructure to the symphony, while building a new fire hall in another location.
Handicappers are having a hard time picking a favorite in this architectural horse race. That’s because, in addition to design skills and experience, they must calculate the relationships among architects and symphony committee members.
Seab Tuck of Tuck-Hinton has designed two homes for Steve Turner and worked closely on the Frist Center with Ken Roberts, another member of the symphony building committee. Tuck is also the incoming board chair of the Nashville Civic Design Center, where Mark Schimmenti, another building committee member, serves as design director. Kem Hinton, the other half of T-H, is a former symphony board member who currently serves on the symphony’s artistic committee.
Earl Swensson Associates has a long history with Central Parking chief Monroe Carell, yet another member of the building committee. Carell was part of the Ryman Group, which brought BellSouth downtown and into the “Batman” building Swensson designed. Central Parking also belonged to the Gateway Partnership, which developed the Gateway master planwith design by Swenssonfor the arena area.
The Schwarz/Swensson team also includes Jim Hastings, whose wife Jeannie chairs the symphony’s board of directors. Symphony spokesperson Jeff Bradford says this situation doesn’t represent a conflict of interest. “Jeannie has been very careful not to be involved. By her request we have not copied her on anything to do with the architect.”
Interested observers also wonder how loud money will talk. Earl Swensson Associates contributed $50,000 to the symphony, according to the organization’s 2000-2001 annual report. By comparison, Tuck-Hinton wrote a $500 check, and Hart Freeland Roberts $250.
This building committee will conduct interviews with the three teams Friday, and then there will be one. Stay tuned.
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