In late spring, River City Co. and the American Institute of Architects-Tennessee sent out a call for submissions for the Passageways project, a program designed to breathe life into the forgotten, under-used and between-building alleyways around downtown.
It was an ambitious ask for Chattanooga. Other American cities currently tackling alleyway improvement projects include Chicago, Austin and Seattle. Chicago is roughly 10 times the size of Chattanooga. Austin is roughly five times bigger. Seattle is three times as large.
Even the organizers of Passageways wondered at first if an alleyway improvement project here was possible.
"Being involved in the planning, it kind of scares you to death at first," said Jared Hueter, co-director of the Passageways project. "This was one of those very rare situations where we threw out a few ideas and a majority of them stuck."
In addition to helping lead Passageways, Hueter is an architect at Cogent Studio and chairman of the AIA-Tennessee convention, which is being held here in August.
Hueter is familiar with projects like Passageways, having worked on something similar previously in New Orleans. And as chairman of the state AIA convention, he tossed around the idea of alleyway design installations as an outreach component of this year's annual meeting of state architects and designers.
Four years ago, the AIA-Tennessee convention held here took part in the Glass House Collective project.
"So we wanted to do that again, kind of in the same spirit," said Hueter.
For the Passageways project, AIA-Tennessee found a partner in River City Co., which had been considering an alleyway project for some time, and which seized on the opportunity to partner with the state AIA for Passageways.
The official request for project submissions went out in late April.
At that time, seven downtown alleyways were flagged as potential installation sites. Project organizers didn't know what to expect in terms of response. Teams were told before submitting that funding would be limited to $5,000 to $10,000 per installation, and that any team members traveling to Chattanooga and staying here would have to do so on their own dime.
Nevertheless, the Passageways ask yielded exciting results.
"We were pretty surprised ourselves by the response, to be honest," said Hueter.
Nearly 70 teams from across the globe submitted installation ideas. Twenty-four international teams submitted ideas, from places as far away as China, Japan, India and Brazil. Meanwhile, 19 teams from across the U.S. (outside Tennessee) also sent in plans. An additional 23 teams from Tennessee (including 12 teams from Chattanooga) competed.
This week, River City Co. and AIA-Tennessee announced the five winning teams. The winners include a team from Sydney, Australia, two teams from New York City and two teams from Chattanooga.
The almost-70 submissions went through a couple of rounds of judging to be whittled down to this final list. The jury panel for the selection process was made up of architects and designers, both here and in other parts of the country.
Program organizers said there were two dozen entries they would have liked to fund, but money — donated by foundations and groups — is limited, and there are practical issues to remember since the goal is to keep each alleyway installation on display for a full year.
"One installation, a big part of it was the use of balloons and some water," said Jason Ennis, co-director of Passageways and an architect at Cogent Studio. "It was things like that, that kind of whittled down the pack to this five."
The alleyway installations will officially launch and open to the public Aug. 24, with the Party in the Passageways event at Miller Plaza from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Free drinks will be available, along with maps showing the location of the five alleyway installations (in four locations). Representatives from each project will be available with their installation to meet and greet the public.
The event will set the tone for what River City Co. officials hope the alleyways become over the course of the next year.
Dane Voorderhake, one of the Urban Chandelier team members, will make the 9,200-mile trip from Sydney, Australia to install his team's project and meet and greet guests the night of the public launch.
Managing the 14-hour gap between Sydney and Chattanooga local time, Voorderhake said earlier this week he's excited to come to Chattanooga for the first time next month and put Urban Chandelier in place.
Voorderhake and fellow team member Billy Feuerman have installed several design pieces in Sydney, and Voorderhake said he found the Passageways competition while searching an architectural competition website in the spring.
"We came up with what we thought was a really great idea," he said.
Freuerman said the team strives to create installations which create greater awareness among pedestrians about their surroundings.
"We're all kind of embedded in our iPhones and smartphones, and so by creating sort of an intervention, that makes people stop and think where they are for a second or two," he said. "It makes people more aware of their city, more aware of the space they're in."
The four selected alleyways were strategically chosen to be within close proximity and within walking distance of one another.
Amy Donahue, marketing and communications director at River City Co., said the alleyways chosen are also heavily-trafficked, and Passageways organizers look forward to pedestrians who don't know about the program finding the installations by accident over the next year.
"We're excited about that, too, so people will be able to sort of stumble upon these," she said.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6480.
› AIA Tennessee
› River City Company
› The Benwood Foundation
› The Lyndhurst Foundation
› Cogent Studio
› National Science Foundation
› Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union
Source: River City Co.