Building the Future: Union Station Hotel
The Story of Union Station
The year is 1898 in Nashville, Tennessee. The early August heat and sweltering air are pierced by a shovel slicing through a plot of land just to the southwest of the Cumberland River, commemorating the start of construction for the future home of Union Station Hotel Nashville. After two years of construction, the train station quickly became hunkered down with commerce that lasted the better portion of four decades, quickly becoming a symbol of Nashville’s meteoric rise as a staple metropolis in the New South. Post-World War II, the station soon began to see a decline in passenger trains and eventually became defunct in 1979. First transformed into a hotel in 1986, management shuffled between property managers until it became a part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection in 2012 and has reclaimed its former glory as a symbol of Nashville’s bountiful success.
Heavily inspired by H. H. Richardson’s take on Romanesque-Revival architecture, the exterior design features cylindrically arched windows with dormers that protrude melodramatically from the steep-gabled roof. The lead engineer and architect Richard Montfort built the façade with Bowling Green grey stone and marble straight from the heart of Tennessee…imprinting a heavy, extravagant gothic ambiance across the station’s structural envelope. Union Station is crowned by a tall clock tower accented by long pillars and arches that entertain one’s eyes as they clamber up the tower, check the time on the ornate clock face, and arrive at the bronze statue that caps off the structure.
The lobby’s design captures its original significance as an epicenter of American travel during the 20th century while captivating guests with stunning modern art flawlessly integrated into the interior architecture. The four-story lobby has been affectionately renovated to incorporate the station’s original color scheme, reflecting its chic at the turn of the 1900s. A barrel-vaulted, stained glass skylight harmoniously ushers tailored sunlight into the structure, bringing a splash of color and jubilance across the white walls and the three decadent crystal chandeliers that dazzle unfettered in the sunlight.
Guest suites are outfitted with incredibly quiet yet robust HVAC systems and have been redesigned with walnut feature walls, headboards accentuated with cowhide, and custom iron and wire chandelier lighting fixtures reminiscent of the Industrial Age, a time the station saw its peak usage. Meeting rooms retain the original tile and Kentucky limestone, making the space unique for the better part of the last century.
Historic Structure…Future-Focused Design
Maintaining the structure’s ornate beauty while prioritizing ease of maintenance was a unique challenge for the design team. All mechanical and electrical components implemented remained conscientious of future technologies, ensuring any updates to the pre-existing HVAC system, lighting, and electrical components could be implemented and installed without sacrificing unnecessary time, energy, and resources. Some of the best examples of how these concepts were exemplified on the project include the lighting surrounding Union Station’s in-house bar. Given the highly-competitive hospitality market in Nashville, lighting design, access ports for lighting and electrical maintenance, and access ports for HVAC and mechanical maintenance were all constructed in easily-accessible areas. Still, they were designed to be discreet and not to disturb the area’s aesthetic.
Many of the structure’s lighting fixtures were retrofitted to accommodate LED lighting and other modern electrical components, adding to their longevity without sacrificing aesthetic.
Crafting telecommunication pathways, rough-ins, back boxes, cable trays, and other necessary conduit work proved tricky as old schematics had miscalculated clearance space in certain areas originally planned to hold new paths for electrical cabling. “We knew we needed to get from Point A to Point B,” stated Alvine Engineering Principal, Brandon Rich, P.E., LEED AP BD+C. “With the extensive knowledge of the building construction made available to us, we worked through a lot of different variations for pathways and worked closely with the contractor to make creative solutions.”
One of the defining characteristics of Union Station Hotel is its unequivocal ambiance that immerses its guests the moment they cross the hotel’s threshold. An immersive, regal environment is crafted meticulously with clean marble and stone and reinvigorated with modern lighting fixtures, state-of-the-art HVAC, and a cohesive design that is a poetically balanced blend of classic architecture and modern amenities. After a history of gradual dilapidation and mismanagement, the Union Station hotel has regained its lost grandeur. It has been reinstated as a unique component of Nashville’s lively downtown apparatus, with much to offer its clientele in the competitive hospitality market.