The Nashville Parthenon

Nashville, Tennessee

When people ask about favorite projects, or where I felt my greatest contribution to a project, or which project I most identify with, inevitably my answer is The Nashville Parthenon. After several years of studying the building and its unique use of concrete as art, a restoration program was designed to replace deteriorated elements of the classical exterior. Elements and surfaces in good condition remained in place and were cleaned, so that the completed project provides a cohesive blend of old and new materials.

The Nashville Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens. Many people find that hard to believe, until they visit the site. The lower level houses a museum of art with changing exhibits, a gift shop, and restrooms. More importantly, as you move from the entry to the galleries, you are introduced to the story of the Parthenon itself, how and why it was built, how it compares to the original, and what was done to restore it to its current appearance. I am part of that story.

Built initially in plaster over a wood substrate, with a concealed rough masonry and steel structure, it was not intended to last beyond the 1897 Centennial celebration. However, after some 30 years, it was still standing, but in deplorable condition. As a beloved structure in Nashville’s history, the city committed to its reconstruction in more permanent materials. The John J. Earley method of concrete mix design is the basis of the new appearance, completed in 1931, with the buff colored aggregates creating a closer match to the natural Pentelic marble of the Acropolis.

Sculptural elements in the pediments and in the metope panels around the frieze were restored. The plaster soffits of the peristyle were repaired and a new, more historically accurate, color scheme was applied. Netting prevents the multitudinous pigeons from roosting at the top of the columns and exterior lighting adds drama to the exterior appearance as the centerpiece of Centennial Park.

When you visit – and, really, you must do that! – be prepared to stand in awe of the forty-foot tall statue of Athena holding a tiny Nike figure in the palm of her hand.