Sustainability. Neighborhood suitability. Historical importance. Energy efficiency. Livability.
Those were just some of the considerations facing three seniors at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga when they developed ideas for redesigning an historic building in Chattanooga.
The decrepit Dixie Mercerizing mill—located in the Ridgedale neighborhood and closed since 2009—is undergoing a complete renovation. As part of their senior project, interior architecture and design majors Landon Parker, Selah Robertson and Robyn Wood came up with concepts for one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, common spaces and commercial businesses for the site.
“Every year, our senior students work on an adaptive reuse project of a historic building, usually abandoned or vacant, in the local community as their capstone project. Typically, those historic buildings are an ‘eyesore’ and degrade the neighborhood quality,” said Dr. Eun Young Kim, assistant professor in the Department of Interior Architecture and Design.
The students presented their plans on Wednesday, Dec. 14, to members of the Chattanooga chapter of the American Institute of Architecture (AIA).
Alex Reyland from HK Associates Inc., the architectural company designing the actual renovation of Dixie Mercerizing, was impressed with the students’ concepts after watching their presentations.
“I really liked them,” he said. “They were very practical.”
As it currently stands, the Dixie Mercerizing building can’t be used because it doesn’t meet building codes. It was originally built in 1920 to produce cotton products.
“I’ve learned a lot about adaptive reuse, which is taking an old building and making it modern while also keeping the historic character,” Robertson said. “That’s something that, as interior designers, we’re going to do a lot, especially with environmental concerns and not wanting to do new builds instead of improving old buildings.”
When it comes to renovating old buildings, though, it’s not just about fixing all the broken parts and making everything pretty.
“We have done a lot of research prior to the beginnings of our schematic design,” said Wood. “We did a lot of focusing on residential codes for apartment buildings to make sure everything was safe and functional.
“We did research about the surrounding community with interviews from local professionals as well as a survey that was sent out to the Ridgedale community. That information has been guiding us in our space planning and our design choices.”
Kim said that part of the students’ project was to make sure any changes to the building fit the overall feel of the neighborhood and are a positive addition.
“We’re doing what we think is going to be best use for the surrounding community,” Wood said. She includes a small grocery store in her plans.
Robertson is adding a library and rentable office space that small businesses can use.
Parker is planning food stalls that can host changing businesses. “If you need or if they want to, or it could be a more permanent basis,” he said.
In spring semester, the students will complete their designs, including identifying materials to be used and construction specifications.
The students said the project gives them hands-on experience with the multiple details that must be considered in building redesign, a major advantage to their future careers.
“Our projects are all going to be shown to future employers in our portfolios, so this project, being as detailed and as large-scale as it is, is going to be really beneficial—assuming it turns out well,” Wood said with a laugh.
Lauren Dunn, adjunct professor in the UTC Department of Engineering Management and Technology and president of the AIA in 2022, said the projects assist the students and the institute.
“AIA Chattanooga wants to take advantage of opportunities to connect with K-12 and higher education students in the region for the mutual benefit to our membership and the students as well as the profession,” she said.