Located in downtown Nashville and owned by the State of Tennessee, the William A. Snodgrass Tower houses more than 3,000 state employees. Originally built in 1970, the 31-story high-rise, best known as the Tennessee Tower, functioned for many years with only a small 700-square-foot café that was no longer capable of keeping up with the demand of the growing population of employees and visitors to the building. Recognizing the need to provide a much larger and more convenient amenity, Tennessee Business Enterprises (TBE) solicited GS&P to expand their food services into an abandoned 30-year-old cafeteria space situated on the Tower’s third floor.
“This was a great project to come on the heels of the T3 consolidation that we executed with the State of Tennessee,” says Jack Weber, senior vice president of GS&P’s Nashville Design Studio. “GS&P had already completed extensive renovations to the building, including the public areas, and knew the state wanted to do something with the almost 8,000 square feet of vacant space that was formerly a Morrison’s Cafeteria. I think we helped them see the bigger picture in that this dormant area could be of greater service not only to the Tennessee Tower but also to the surrounding buildings.”
“This effort was essentially guided by Gov. Bill Haslam’s statewide ‘Healthier Tennessee’ initiative,” adds senior interior designer Julie Roquemore. “So, along with creating a larger food service area, both the client and the state sought to improve the quality of food offered to employees by providing healthier choices.”
Soon after the initial concept for the project had been developed, GS&P discovered that incorporating the abandoned cafeteria as part of the design solution came with numerous implementation challenges. Roquemore explains:
“As with any structure that’s 30 years old and hasn’t been used for decades, the demolition uncovered multiple unforeseen challenges. For example, we discovered that a main wall slated for demolition was supporting existing ductwork. And above what was to become the new seating area, there was no possibility to support the new ceiling from the deck above due to the extensive mechanical units and ductwork that couldn’t be moved.”
To mitigate these unexpected challenges, GS&P’s structural team developed a system of new steel columns and beams to support the loads of existing ductwork and corridor ceilings as well as the newly designed ceilings and walls.
“We designed the space and then had to rework it once we actually got into construction,” says Roquemore. “One of the best things we did was engage with the stakeholders—the client, the state and the contractor—on a weekly basis. We brought the contractor on board early in the process, which meant that we got to execute the demolition as early as possible, which was key. During this phase, everybody knew there were going to be some unknowns. So, when an issue presented itself, we worked together as a team to figure out how to navigate what was being dealt to us and problem-solved in real time. That team effort ultimately played an important role in the project’s success.”
To fulfill the client’s goal of creating a centralized, convenient, and inviting food court area for employees and visitors alike, GS&P designed an open, bright and inviting space with bold signage that complements the state’s rebranding efforts. Extra-large openings enable easy circulation, and distinct points of entry for food stations improve navigation and customer flow. The design creates a cohesive connection with public areas previously renovated by GS&P, and incorporates convenient access from the kitchen to the adjacent Tennessee Room (a new space used for overflow seating) and to the freight elevator for easy service and catering. The 7,800-square-foot floor plan also features the addition of a coffee shop—a new amenity for employees.
“Because the Tennessee Tower is such a tall office building accommodating as many as 3,000 employees, you can only do so much to connect people from floor to floor,” says Weber. “And there’s only two places where people outside of their own floorplate can connect with one another—a conference center, which supports scheduled activities, and the food court/coffee shop. The new amenity gives people the opportunity to have lunch or grab a cup of coffee outside of their own floorplate and socialize with other employees.
“When the state first started moving workers back into the building as part of the T3 consolidation, there was only a small walk-up grill and no place for people to gather and chat or run into one another. This project continues the synergies between the various agencies within the building, which was a huge driver in the T3 effort. It also facilitates a connection with state employees from nearby buildings who patronize the new food court.”
Along with creating opportunities for connection, GS&P’s design honors the iconic building’s original architecture.
“We kept the clean and modern mid-century look, especially with the signage at the front of the food court, which matched the metal finishes that are used in other areas of the building,” explains interior designer Amy Klinefelter. “Although this was a small project in terms of size, it was extremely complicated. I’m proud that we were able to deal with all the challenges and still come out with the look the client wanted for this space.”
Transforming the abandoned remnants of a 30-year-old cafeteria into an inviting and convenient amenity, GS&P’s design provides state employees with an alternate place to work, socialize and relax at all times of the day. Opened in September 2015 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony officiated by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, the new food court offers healthier choices to employees, including a rotating menu of fresh grill specials as well as a salad bar and a frozen yogurt station.
“As we were working on the design, we helped the state recognize the massive impact that a food service area could have in bringing people together,” says Weber. “We’ve received nothing but positive feedback from the client, the state, and employees who are really enjoying the new amenity.”
“This project is a big step in the right direction in regard to the governor’s initiative to promote a healthier workplace,” adds Roquemore. “We worked hard to give the client everything they wanted and specifically designed the space to emphasize a range of healthy menu options. The expansion not only vastly improves state employees’ dining options, but also provides three times more food service than the previous facility.”