A bold vision for Nashville
Nashville-based architect David Bailey is fully committed to creating innovative, sustainable designs for his city. If he wasn’t, we might suggest he become a tour guide. Passionate about the culture, landscape, and food scene, Bailey is an enthusiastic supporter of all Nashville has to offer.
Bailey and his team at Hastings Architecture Associates (where he’s a principal) have contributed to some of the city’s biggest projects, from stadiums to campuses, offices to homes. No wonder he knows the city so well. Most recently, the firm worked their magic on the Thompson Nashville, creating a landmark that integrates new and old elements of the city and, in the spirit of Nashville itself, welcomes everyone from short-term visitors to long-time locals. Bailey shared some of his favorite local spots, details about his own background, and the architectural components that make the Thompson Nashville unique in a city full of impressive structures.
Describe what makes Nashville’s architecture unique.
Nashville, known as “the Athens of the South” for its universities and culture (and full-scale Parthenon), is home to unique architectural sites represented by styles from classical to modern. Our State Capitol, designed by William Strickland, is one of the most impressive in the country. The L&C Tower, Nashville’s first high-rise, was designed by visionary architect and inventor, Edwin Keeble, and completed in 1957. Our urban areas are surrounded by wonderful, walkable, and historic neighborhoods. Gentle rolling hills, vibrant green landscapes, lakes, and rivers all provide an inviting backdrop.
The city is growing and very welcoming. We are urbanizing and adding parks. Design attitudes are maturing and becoming more exciting. Nashvillians appreciate and support good architecture—we’re creating great buildings and spaces while we grow. Many cities in the United States experienced significant growth during eras of less exciting architecture. We are growing at a point in time where we recognize the value of authenticity, fabric of our city, quality of life and the public realm, and sustainability. We are reshaping our city to be more interesting and unique than ever.
How did you decide to pursue a career in architecture?
Architecture was an early love–I knew that I’d pursue the career from a young age. Growing up, I spent countless hours building forts, disassembling toys, building models, creating wild contraptions, and exploring both the woods and the new construction in my burgeoning neighborhood. As the child of a painter and an engineer, these interests seemed to be in my DNA. In high school I enjoyed math, science, art, photography, and drafting classes. Though I was unaware at the time, they prepared me for architecture school. I evaluated many architecture programs around the region and selected the University of Tennessee. Its program has always flourished. I was able to learn from exceptional instructors and architects that have greatly impacted my career.
Sustainability is a big concern for you and your firm. How does this function in the Thompson Nashville?
We’ve woven sustainable design into our philosophy for decades. Our own office, in fact, achieved LEED Certification in 2004. It was the first private building in the state of Tennessee and one of the first 250 in the world to do so. We designed the Thompson, like our office, with a deep concern for sustainability. At the hotel, guests will enjoy an experience that is shaped, in part, by that approach. We allowed for an abundance of daylight in the rooms and interior spaces. We incorporated many local and regional materials that benefit our economies and reduce transportation impacts. We included recycled and recyclable materials in the construction of the building. The hotel utilizes high-performance glazing that offers clear views of the neighborhood and skyline. Plus, we used LED lighting, solar reflective roofing, and many other sustainable components.
Tell us about your process with the Thompson Nashville—what were your initial ideas, and how did they evolve?
We always thought about this as a vitrine—a sensuous and gracefully curved display of curated space. The Gulch was born out of a gritty railroad vibe. The design evolved in the amount of polish the vitrine received. It changed from gritty to more urbane, ultimately more reflective of The Gulch and Nashville of today. We also wanted to visually connect the lobby and restaurants to the pedestrian realm and the neighborhood. Collaborating with Parts and Labor Design, we were confident in this approach.
Visitors will notice that the hotel tower is set back from the major corner. This move made possible a highly activated, two-story composition of the Marsh House restaurant on the ground floor and banquet rooms and terrace above. These relate to the scale of the structures immediately adjacent, such as the 404 Kitchen and the Station Inn. Our intent was to allow light and air to infiltrate the activity in the heart of the Gulch.
The taller, curved tower of the hotel is clad with gray and charcoal velvety zinc-coated metal panels and an almost-clear glass that exhibits the interiors of the hotel. This creates an intimate interaction with the surroundings. Both link jewelry and The Gulch neighborhood’s railroad past inspired the glass (mullion) pattern.
Finally, we sought to create a breathtaking rooftop restaurant and terrace that offer dramatic views of the Nashville skyline. Here, the hotel will draw both guests and locals to engage in a special experience together.
You’ve lived most of your life in Tennessee. What do you love about the state, and about Nashville in particular?
Tennessee is a beautiful and geographically diverse state with the Smoky Mountains in the east and the Mississippi in the west. Rich history and culture extends from end to end. We experience all four seasons and appreciate enjoyable weather in each. Tennesseans are good, friendly people who are willing to help our neighbors. We’re easy to meet and enjoy gathering with others. Watching a football game at Neyland Stadium at UT is a singular experience.
Nashville, the state capital in the center of the state, is a buzzing, growing urban center surrounded by hills and spectacular greenbelts. I moved to Nashville in 1996 seeking a growing city and a place to create progressive architecture. I was more than lucky in my timing. The past 20 years have been, and the next 20 will be, an incredible experience. The city maintains a unique place in American culture and is the country’s music center. No other place has quite the mix of cultural, educational, business, and environmental elements that we do. It is truly a great city in which to live and visit.
What makes your neighborhood, Belmont, special?
Belmont is a vibrant neighborhood comprised of beautiful, historically protected homes from the early 1900’s; parks; several universities; and many destinations for good food and fun. Belmont is walkable and active with runners, families, and bicyclists. A vast majority if its historical homes have been renovated and restored—good design is present everywhere and new construction seeks to meet the bar. Situated only 3.5 miles from downtown, Belmont enjoys easy access to all the great attributes of our city.
Name some of your favorite spots—bars, restaurants, parks, museums, anywhere—where you get inspiration, or just have a great time.
Nashville is filled with many wonderful neighborhoods and destinations. It’s inspiring just to visit different parts of town and see the positive change happening every day. Some great places to visit are:
- Centennial Park
- Cheekwood Gardens
- Percy Priest Lake
- The Ryman
- Schermerhorn Symphony Center
- Frist Center for the Visual Arts
- The Station Inn
- Old Hickory Lake + The Cumberland River downtown
- Nashville Sounds Stadium
- Vanderbilt University Campus – a nationally recognized arboretum
Some of my favorite restaurants, by neighborhood, are:
- Rolf and Daughters in Germantown
- Lockeland Table in East Nashville
- Union Common in Midtown
- Kayne Prime and The 404 Kitchen in the Gulch
- Pinewood Social at Rolling Mill Hill and Etch Downtown
- Josephine and 12 South Taproom in Belmont / 12 South District
What is your advice for first-time Nashville visitors?
Dive deep in just a few neighborhoods (downtown and the surrounding areas). Don’t try to do too much—take your time and enjoy. Nashville offers the ability to slow down and soak up the music, culture, food, and outdoors. Perhaps plan your trip around a concert or sporting event. There is no shortage of fun and interesting experiences here!