He didn’t design Music City Center, the Pinnacle Building, the Batman Building (he doesn’t even like that one) or any of our other skyline behemoths, but architect Nick Dryden’s projects in Nashville’s neighborhoods just might be more important.
We caught up with Nick shortly before he delivered a lecture last week to the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design on “placemaking,” a planning and design approach that focuses on a local community’s assets and the importance of vibrant neighborhoods with inviting, human-scaled architecture.
Nick’s belief in the power of neighborhoods to enrich Nashville’s future is the driving force behind his firm, DA|AD Group, which was started 11 years ago to capitalize on the re-densification of neighborhoods such as East Nashville, 12South and Germantown.
“As people were starting to rediscover and relocate in these neighborhoods, we realized there was a lot of opportunity to focus on that,” Nick said. “It seemed like a good opportunity to get involved and to make a difference in neighborhoods. We have just been following that pattern through Nashville and different neighborhoods over the past decade.”
Odds are you’ve not only seen Dryden’s work, but also spent some time in it.
“A lot of our work has focused on artist housing, historic renovations, adaptive reuses, studios and boutique retail spots such as Burger Up, Billy Reid, Imogene+Willie, Peter Nappi Studio, Lockeland Table and King Baby Studio. All of these places are in really interesting neighborhoods or industrial spaces that we kind of resurrected. They became cultural and social hubs for the neighborhoods they’re in. One of the things I’ve learned is the power architecture has to create interest for people and make them excited to spend time in a place.”
Nick seems to get the most excited talking about his adaptive reuse projects. He spent years with his eye on a former gas station at 12th Avenue South and Sweetbriar, that was a meaningful location to the neighborhood.
“I think one of the first things you have to do is spend a lot of time listening,” Nick told us. Even with it being vacant, you could tell that service station used to be a gathering place for the neighborhood. “You try to pick up on elements like that whether they be physical or metaphysical.” The building is now home to Imogene+Willie, purveyor of handcrafted jeans, whose owners also use the space to host neighborhood parties and community-rallying events.
In a similar vein, the Neuhoff Meat Packing Plant in Germantown, which was historically a major center of commerce and employment as one of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses, is now a creative village anchored by the Peter Nappi studio.
Here are some of Dryden’s other architectural thoughts on:
The Batman Building: “It’s funny how a building like that can become an icon for a city. Personally, I think it’s a terrible building. It’s a rip-off of a building in Australia. Nothing about it has anything to do with the identity of Nashville.”
Iconic Nashville buildings he likes: Union Station, Life & Casualty Tower, Cummins Station and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. The Frist “is a great building historically, but it’s also been a great adaptive reuse: preserving a structure like that and inserting a new, valuable asset to the city.”
Working with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys: “Coming from a completely different background and profession, he has a lot of similar interests in Nashville and neighborhoods. He has a humble bungalow in Belmont/Hillsboro. He wanted to be an active participant in Nashville, not gated off.”