The Barlew Blog

David Barlew Architects is a Chattanooga-based architecture firm founded in 1978 by David Barlew, Sr. Our diverse practice has experience in the design and renovation of mixed-use developments, schools, offices, commercial centers and medical facilities. Local projects designed by David Barlew Architects in the past 5 years include Renaissance Square, a two story, mixed-use building completed in 2008 on Martin Luther King Boulevard by The 28th Legislative District Community Development Corporation; the Temporary Twelve-Bed Intensive Care Unit at Erlanger Hospital; Sing It Or Wing It, a karaoke bar and restaurant in downtown Chattanooga (interior design by Christi Homar); and the Auditorium Building Renovation and Addition at Cleveland State Community College for the Tennessee Board of Regents. David Barlew Architects has also volunteered time for the Brainerd Road Corridor Master Plan, a nearly three year long community-led initiative to improve the Brainerd Community of Chattanooga.

David Barlew Architects, Inc. is a member of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Barlew Blog

City View Chattanooga: the Brainerd Levee

by David Barlew, Jr. on 03/27/14

Last month, I finished my first half-marathon, the Scenic City Half Marathon and Charity Challenge.

To prepare for the 13.1 mile run, I completed seventy training runs between early December and race day on February 22. In the process, I ran nearly 150 miles and burned approximately 22,500 calories. And, many of those calories were burned running on the Brainerd Levee.


While I was out on one of my training runs, I snapped this photo of the levee as it was discharging water into South Chickamauga Creek, a local tributary of the Tennessee River. Although I had run across the levee's pump station many times, I had never really considered its function and role in protecting Brainerd apart from that of the levee as a whole. But, as I watched it actively engaged in expelling excess water from the Brainerd side of the levee, it struck me that I had taken this important piece of public infrastructure for granted.


That realization got me thinking about how many of us fail to consider our public infrastructure, such as bridges, sewers, roads, levees, pump stations, and the like. Without these critical elements, upon which we all depend, our modern society could not function. We should all be more appreciative of, not only the infrastructure itself, but the men and women who design, build, and maintain these important components of the built environment. We owe these dedicated professionals and their completed public projects many thanks for allowing our lives to be cleaner, safer, and more efficient.




Photo by David Barlew, Jr.

A Tree Grows on Glass Street

by David Barlew, Jr. on 03/11/14

Photo by David Barlew, Jr.

Photo by David Barlew, Jr.

Photo by David Barlew, Jr.

On Friday, March seventh, Glass Street got its first tree!

At a party organized by Glass House Collective to celebrate Arbor Day, attendees took part in literally planting new life on Glass Street. Friday's planting was the beginning of the next major step in Glass Street's incredible renaissance.


The transformation of Glass Street continued the following day. Thanks to a team of over one hundred volunteers, less than one hour's work last Saturday transformed Glass Street from a treeless strip to a commercial corridor lined with new ginkgos and maples.

Photo by David Barlew, Jr.

Glass Street now has trees! The little saplings don't look like much right now. But, in a few weeks, when they are leafed out and green, the new trees will make Glass Street so much more attractive and inviting.

Photo by Glass House Collective

The tree planting event started at ten that morning on Glass Street with the arrival of volunteers. The group started small, but kept growing. After a bus of two of high school students arrived, Glass House Collective had a small army of volunteers at its disposal.

Photo by Glass House Collective

Chattanooga City Forester, Gene Hyde, organized and managed Saturday's project. He divided the throng of volunteers into eight tree-planting teams, and his own team of helpful city employees provided each group with all of the tools and supplies necessary to plant the trees: a box cutter, a bolt cutter, two shovels, two bags of mulch, and a rake. A very knowledgeable city employee then instructed everyone on the correct way to plant and mulch a tree.

Photo by Glass House Collective

With tools in hand and planting instructions fresh in their minds, the teams quickly set about planting the trees on Glass Street.

Photo by Gail McKeel

I was a member of the Good Neighbor Network team. (I swear we didn't just stand around all morning; we really did plant three trees!) Thanks to the fact that city employees had already placed the balled trees in the new treewells, the planting process was pretty simple. We had to level the trees in the wells and remove the protective wrapping from their trunks and root balls using the box cutters and bolt cutters. Next, we removed the excess soil from the tops of the rootballs to reveal the trees' natural root flares. Finally, we filled in the holes and mulched the trees. With so many volunteers, the process took almost no time at all. 


Photo by Gary Hamilton

Photo by Gary Hamilton

To commemorate and celebrate the planting of the trees on Glass Street, which is a tremendous accomplishment for Glass House Collective, the neighborhoods near Glass Street, and, really, the city as a whole, Glass House Collective and Glass Street's Good Neighbor Network hosted an Arbor Day observance party the day before on Friday, March seventh.

Photo by Gary Hamilton

The event kicked-off with a friendly welcoming by Nori Moss, the Coordinator for the Good Neighbor Network, and an informative introduction by Jon Nessle, Chair of the Chattanooga Tree Commission.

Photo by Gary Hamilton

Photo by Gary Hamilton

Chattanooga City Forester, Gene Hyde, then delivered a brief history of Arbor Day and explained the origin of the holiday. The City Forester also explained why trees are important in urban areas, highlighting trees' ability to lower power bills, stabilize and beautify neighborhoods, and clean the air. Of course, trees do much more than that; more information about the benefits of trees can be found here and here.

Photo by Gary Hamilton

The reading of the Tennessee State Arbor Day Proclamation by City Councilman Yusuf Hakeem echoed those sentiments. The proclamation declares that "the planting and proper maintenance of landscape trees enhances the economic vitality of business areas, increases property values, cuts heating and cooling costs, moderates the temperature, cleans our air, beautifies our communities, and improves our quality of life." The Tennessee State Arbor Day Proclamation can be read in full here.

Photo by Gary Hamilton

Officials from the Tennessee Division of Forestry were on hand to present the Tree City USA Award to the City of Chattanooga.

Photo by Gary Hamilton

Before concluding with a formal acceptance of the trees by Glass House Collective's Chairman of the Board, Peter Murphy, the Arbor Day celebration featured a tree dedication delivered by the Good Neighbor Network's Dale Grisso.  "We dedicate the trees today towards the grass roots effort underway here on Glass Street. Our neighbors have been working hard on making Glass Street more clean, safe, and inviting over the past two years, and we are excited to plant these trees to continue to bring life back to Glass Street and Glass Street back to life."

And coming back to life it is!

Plan by David R. Barlew Architects, Inc..

In the fifteen months since Glass House Collective released the streetscaping plan designed by David Barlew Architects, Glass Street has been living through a dramatic physical transformation.

Photo by David Barlew, Jr.

Photo by Glass House Collective

In December, the city of Chattanooga gave Glass Street new pedestrian street lights for Christmas.

Photo by David Barlew, Jr.

And, now, Glass Street has trees given by the Chattanooga Tree Commission, placed by the department of public works, and planted by teams of volunteers.


Change is coming fast to Glass Street, and I am so thankful to have been involved in its renaissance as Glass House Collective continues its work to "bring life back to Glass Street and Glass Street back to life."

Why I Ride the Bus

by David Barlew, Jr. on 03/05/14

When I moved to the Brainerd area of Chattanooga several years ago, I knew that one of the city's bus routes ran through the center of the neighborhood a few blocks from our house. I knew the buses were there, but I didn't know anything else. I didn't know the number of the route or the cost of the fare. I didn't know the location of the nearest stop, and I didn't know the first thing about the buses' schedules. And, why would I? Chalk it up to middle class privilege, but, like most everyone else in Chattanooga, I owned a car, and any knowledge about Chattanooga's public transit was just not required. In this city, driving a car, clearly, is the de facto way of getting around. And, that is precisely what I did.

So established is Chattanooga's driving culture that I know people think it's strange that I, a college-educated, middle class professional---an Architect!---would ride the bus. The bus. When people say the words, the syllables coming out of their mouths drip with disapproval and---even more so---revulsion. Bus. Around here, the word comes with an implied "ugh" right behind, a coda to signify one's disgust. The bus? Why would anyone ride the bus?


By writing this post, I'm hoping to answer precisely that question. After several years of periodically using public transportation in Chattanooga, I want to explain why I made what amounts to a countercultural decision to get on CARTA from time to time, and I'm hoping it will encourage others in Chattanooga to consider the bus as a viable transportation option.



To and from work each day, I drove myself in my own car. I didn't think much about it. In fact, I continued to drive my car exclusively until 2010, when my vehicular habits were suddenly changed by an event several hundred miles to the South.


Beginning in April of that year, horrible pictures of dirty and dying animals, stained beaches, and filthy brown water caused by the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill entered the news. Following those initial reports were stories of inundated, ruined marshlands, and distraught, unemployed shrimpers. It was awful.


I decided then that I didn't want to be part of this anymore, and by this I meant the American love affair with oil. I didn't want to be part of the oil-soaked birds, the washed-up dolphins, and the ruined coastal communities. I didn't want to be part of the dirty beaches, planes dropping dispersants, and dying sea life. Having seen all of the horrible images, I decided that I would try to reduce my gasoline consumption.



For as long as I can remember, I have always been an advocate for public transportation; to me, it has always seemed like an attractive, logical, and cost-effective option for moving people from place to place.


I am impressed by public transportation's potential efficiency. Public transportation has the ability to move large numbers of people with a very low ratio of material per person. Public transportation requires less metal, rubber, plastic, and glass on a per person basis to move a given number of people. Public transportation also reduces the need for parking lots, parking garages, and extra lanes on the highway, all of which free up land and space for higher uses, such as businesses, housing, parks, and natural areas.


All of that said, it took something dramatic to shake me from simply being a passive supporter of public transportation to being an active user of public transportation. To paraphrase Gandhi, I needed to be the change I wished to see in the world.


The transition from talking the talk to walking... err, riding the ride isn't easy. There is a big knowledge curve to wind one's way through. As I said at the beginning of the post, I knew nothing about Chattanooga's buses a few years ago. I was starting from scratch, and learning about the different routes and schedules requires some effort.


Even after you learn all of the logistics of the bus route and schedule, you have to screw up the gumption to get on the bus for the first time. No, really. You don't think about it until the time comes, but there are so many little anxieties about the bus. Who will be on the bus? Taking transit in Chattanooga, after all, is not culturally normative; who will these bus riders be? How many people will be on the bus? Will it be a pleasant commute? What if I drop my six quarters like a klutz and everyone is sitting there irritated and looking at me because I'm holding up traffic?


But, if those poor pelicans down at the Gulf could withstand being coated head-to-toe in petroleum, surely I could overcome some minor anxieties about the unknown to try Chattanooga's public transportation for the first time.


And, that is what I did.


Beginning in May of 2010, I started riding the bus on the number four route a few times per week. I still drive, yes, but much less than before. Over time, the trips taken by bus---and not taken by car---really begin to show up on the odometer. I actually drove my car so little during 2011, 2012, and 2013 that my car only required one oil change per year based on mileage! Riding the bus has turned out to a good way to save wear & tear on my car and save money in the process. More importantly, riding the bus has allowed me to use far less gasoline, which was my impetus for riding the bus to begin with. Goal accomplished.





Riding the bus in Chattanooga has also turned out to be very easy. CARTA offers a number of features that make riding the bus easy and convenient, the best of which is the Bus Tracker software. Available on the CARTA website at, Bus Tracker allows riders to see real time information about the buses' locations and projected arrival times. Bus Tracker is extremely helpful, and it takes the guess work out of using public transportation. Rather than waiting down at the bus stop for a bus that may or may not be coming, riders can see precisely when their bus is going to arrive; riders can continue doing whatever it is that they're doing until it's time to go to the bus stop.

I find the tabulation of bus arrival times to be the most helpful. I can continue to work at my desk with this window open down in the corner of my monitor. I then know when to leave at just the right moment.

The Bus Tracker software also has a map feature. The map is customizable; by checking different boxes, a rider can modify the map's content to display different routes with the locations of the buses along that route. The map above shows Route 4 and its buses.

The CARTA website works great on mobile devices.

And, the Bus Tracker software works well on smart phones, too. With so much rider information available at one's fingertips, riding the bus becomes just as easy as hopping behind the wheel.




Unfortunately, many Chattanooga area residents lack convenient access to the city's public transit. Much of the housing stock and many of the businesses are located in areas not served by public transportation. I have heard before that less than one quarter of Chattanooga's residents live and work in locations accessible by public transportation, which goes a long way towards explaining this city's dominant car culture.


This isn't to say that expanding access to transportation is impossible. In the early Twentieth Century, streetcars serviced areas like Belvoir, Missionary Ridge, and Signal Mountain. Later in the century, buses serviced Signal Mountain, East Ridge, and Red Bank. I see no reason why these systems couldn't happen and work again.


I ascribe to the "build it and they will come" point of view. In recent decades, Chattanooga has completely revitalized its once neglected downtown. New buildings have been constructed, new businesses have opened, and new residents have moved in. Where once whole blocks had been dead after five P.M., life now animates the central city's streets at nearly all hours of the day. In recent years, Chattanooga has revamped its downtown library with great success. The library's fourth floor, for example, now regularly hosts exciting community events, and the library has again become a place Chattanoogans want to be. In the past twenty four months, Glass Street has begun coming back to life, and the East Chattanooga community is now one of the most talked-about areas in all of Chattanooga. I see no reason why we can't do the same with our transit system. We can add new routes to open transportation choice to a greater segment of the Chattanooga population, and we can improve the existing routes to encourage greater ridership. In short, we can turn the "Why do you ride the bus?" of today into the "Why don't you ride the bus?" of tomorrow.


Until then, if you have the opportunity to ride the bus, please give it a try. You might just like it. The pelicans in the Gulf and your car's odometer will thank you.



Written by David Barlew, Jr.


All photographs by David Barlew, Jr.


Permission to use screenshots of Bus Tracker software in use granted by CARTA on 6 July 2012.

Natura sin Barreras

by David Barlew, Jr. on 02/26/14

While many people take joy from spending time in the great outdoors, natural environments such as forests, mountainsides, and beaches can be difficult or impossible for individuals with mobility issues to access. Rock formations, loose sand, uneven terrain, and other obstacles all present problems for physically-disabled, nature-loving individuals who want to get out and experience the wonder of the natural world.

In recent years, though, I have visited a number of beautiful, natural places where efforts have been made to make wild environments accessible to everyone regardless of physical ability. Through the installation of walkways, decked surfaces, and ramps, diverse landscapes ranging from tropical beaches to Appalachian hillsides to Slash Pine forests have been opened to individuals with physical disabilities.

The Kendeda Canopy Walk at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Atlanta, Georgia offers visitors of all abilities the opportunity to pass through the high canopy of a broadleaf, humid subtropical forest typical of the southeastern United States.

The walkway winds its way through "the branches of oaks, hickories, and poplars" (Atlanta Botanical Garden).

It also provides ample seating along its length through the forest's many tree trunks and branches.

The Kendela Canopy Walk is an attractive, elegant structure, and, according to the Atlanta Botanical Garden website, it is also the only "canopy-level walkway of its kind in the United States" (Atlanta Botanical Garden).

A similar, though much longer, structure has been constructed to the north in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The South Chickamauga Creek Greenway in East Chattanooga weaves its way between trees and against steep rock faces as it follows the meandering course of South Chickamauga Creek below.

The greenway allows visitors to observe both forest and wetland wildlife while travelling along the sloped side of a ridge that rises out of the creek. Rock formations, trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and other natural elements are readily visible along the elevated, wooden path.

The greenway provides a smooth, easily travelled passageway through otherwise difficult terrain and opens the beauty of South Chickamauga Creek and its environs to everyone.

Equally challenging terrain has been made accessible by the East Slough ADA Hiking Trail at Julian G. Bruce Saint George Island State Park in Eastpoint, Florida. The hiking trail creates an accessible path from sun-kissed sand dune beaches along the Gulf of Mexico through native pine flatwood forest to the green marshlands of Apalachicola Bay.

Passing through the light shade of tall Slash Pine trees overhead, the ADA-accessible boardwalk trail allows visitors of all abilities to see the native evergreens, grasses, cacti, and marshlands representative of the Gulf Coast ecosystem.

Another installation farther to the South in Luquillo, Puerto Rico allows individuals in wheelchairs to access the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Known as el Mar sin Barreras (translation: Sea without Barriers), this accessible beach facility is located at el Balneario de Luquillo on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico. As far as I know, this is the only beach on Earth where individuals in wheelchairs can enter the Atlantic Ocean in a conventional wheelchair.

The picture above was taken at low tide, but, at other times, the water comes right up to the ramp and submerges the beach-level landing.

El Balneario de Luquillo also features wheelchair accessible picnic pavilions, concession stands, and shower facilities, making the entire public facility handicap accessible.

Although natural environments such as beaches and forests can present challenges to individuals with physical disabilities, it is nice to see that efforts are being made to open the beauty of nature to everyone regardless of physical ability. Thanks to the installation of accessible infrastructure such as ramps, boardwalks, and smooth surfaces, physically-disabled, nature-loving individuals now have the opportunity to access the wonder of the natural world.


Written by David Barlew, Jr.

All photographs by David Barlew, Jr.

"Kendela Canopy Walk”. Atlanta Botanical Garden. Web. 25 February 2014.

"Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park”. Florida State Parks.  Web. 25 February 2014.

Architect's Snow Day

by David Barlew, Jr. on 02/14/14

All work and no play makes for a boring, boring Architect.


So, when Mother Nature blanketed Chattanooga with several inches of beautiful, school-cancelling, office-closing snowfall, I decided to go out and play.


Play for an Architect, though, still requires some rigor. Those stereotypes about us... yeah, they're kind of true.


So, what resulted when I took to the snow is a six-level, square pyramid made from blocks I formed and cut by hand.


Seeing that the public art mounting pad was vacant, I decided to put up my own installation. I call it "Snowchitecture".


All photographs by David Barlew, Jr.