Tennessee River Studio

How can we preserve the ecology of Tennessee’s largest watershed?


The Tennessee River Valley has been referenced around the world as an innovative model of landscape as infrastructure. The investments and infrastructures of the Tennessee Valley Authority - both physical and human - have catalyzed community and economic development, enabled commerce and safe transport, provided reliable electricity and water supply, and protected vulnerable communities from flooding throughout the 20th century. The finite life cycles of these infrastructures, climate dynamics and projected population growth, federal budget constraints and recent discussions of TVA privatization call to mind the Tennessee Valley’s inevitable evolution from the landscape as we know today.


​Brad Collett

Assistant Professor, School of Landscape Architecture & Department of Plant Sciences
University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Philip Enquist, FAIA

Governor's Chair,
Partner for Urban Design & Planning
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Governor’s Chair for Energy + Urbanism

The Idea of the River

As the inaugural River Project collaboration between the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design and the Governor’s Chair for Energy + Urbanism, this studio speculates visions for the Tennessee River Valley as a model infrastructure for the 21st and beyond, positioning it through regional planning studies and contemporary planning approaches to reassert its place in the world as an innovative landscape that is economically vital, socially vibrant, and environmentally resilient.

River Tour

In the summer of 2016 the studio engaged in an interdisciplinary watershed research, planning and design tour of the Tennessee River. The studio travelled 1157 total miles, including 831 miles from Knoxville to Paducah. This trip covered 652 miles of Tennessee River, including 33 stops along the way and 27 river crossings in 5 days.

The insights gained from those with whom we met, the conditions we observed and the experiences we shared on the river tour combine to provide a rare and unique perspective for us.

Mapping the River

The Tennessee River systems is nested within the Mississippi River Basin and Ohio River Watershed. Its headwaters in the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains form scenic blueways that race to the great valley of the Tennessee River. These connections are valuable from a habitat and wildlife corridor standpoint, creating opportunities for future multi-modal corridor development, while also leaving downstream communities vulnerable to illicit and unregulated activities in upstream landscapes.

Tennessee River Workshop

The Tennessee River Project is intended to be a unifying and forward-looking research and visioning effort for the full watershed, the people who live within it, and those who visit it. To take the conversation to the next level, leaders from UT, ORNL, SOM, TVA, and many other local stakeholders convened to discuss next steps toward creating a vision for the region.

Related Projects and Research:

What Can We Do Together?

The Great Lakes–St. Lawrence Century Project

Hong Kong Water Line Project

Students Contributors:

Paul Bamson, Chris Herbstritt, Bryan Lin, Megan Plaag, Frank Potts, Journey Roth, Caley Shoemaker, Mathew Smith, Ryan Smith,Brian Stovall, Andrew Tarsi, Kenneth Townsend