To be honest, before the TN River Studio, I had really never thought much about the Tennessee River. I knew it was important, that it was modified by the Tennessee Valley Authority dams in the 1930’s, and that it wasn’t as clean as it could be, but there was so much I was missing about it. Being part of the Governor’s Chair River Studio during my second year of graduate school studying landscape architecture has sparked my interest in the river, its potential, and its challenges. As a studio, we embarked on an 831 mile journey to study the river by driving vans along the route that followed the river as closely as possible from Knoxville, TN to Paducah, KY. This tour of the TN River lasted five days from September 7-11 and was filled with stops, encounters, unexpected sites, and meet ups that really shed some light on the complexities of the system known as the TN River.

I learned about just how many people are invested in the river and how truly important its sustainability really is. From cities like Chattanooga and Paducah who defined themselves by their proximity to and economic dependence on the river, to the millions of tons of cargo transported along it, to TVA and the US Army Corps of Engineers tasked with supplying an enormous amount of energy from and maintaining the massive infrastructures controlling its flow, to the farmers of Savannah, TN who depend on a static edge condition and water elevation to prevent farmland erosion and flooding of thousands of acres of crops, to the environmentalists who would rather the river be left alone and wildlife, habitats, and ecosystems preserved, the river proves incredibly complex and paradoxical. These interests, seemingly conflicting, drive the delicate balance of the TN River and the increased influence of any of these interests heavily effects the stability of the system as a whole.

Moving forward, designing balance and equilibrium between these many interests and the constantly moving and dynamic river system will be vital for the success of the system as a whole. Maximizing economic growth, preventing ecological and environmental degradation, improving air and water quality, and generating clean and renewable energy will be the goal of our studio design projects going forward.

(This was a blog entry written last year after the tour’s conclusion and my resultant project is called Curated Inundation. You can find that project in my design portfolio linked here: https://issuu.com/paulbamson/docs/architecture_landscape_portfolio)

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