95 Years of Architecture in Tennessee (and counting) - 1922 - 2017 (present)
My grandfather, Allen N. Dryden, Sr. was born May 26, 1895, in Chicago, Illinois. From an early age he showed a stunning aptitude for both art and music and when the time came, there was no doubt where he would direct his scholastic energies. He attended The Art Institute of Chicago in pursuit of a degree in Fine Art. He then went on to study Architecture under Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1917, in his final year at The Armour Institute, Dryden won the international Rome Prize (considered the most coveted prize offered a senior architectural student), offering him the opportunity to study abroad. However, World War I was raging and he wasn’t able to travel overseas. That same year, looking for a way out of Chicago for the summer, Dryden connected with a classmate from East Tennessee and decided to visit him. While there, he fell in love with the landscape and sensed the opportunity to be a part of building the blossoming town of Kingsport, Tennessee.
Re-chartered in 1917, Kingsport was an early example of a "garden city." Part of it was designed by city planner and landscape architect John Nolen of Cambridge, Massachusetts. On his first visit to Kingsport, Nolen “found a wasteland, temporary town laid out grid fashion in contrast to some of the most verdant countryside he had ever seen.” He was impressed by the “unspoiled natural beauty” of the area. It was nicknamed the Model City from Nolen’s vision, which organized the town into areas for commerce, churches, housing and industry. Most of the land on the river was devoted to industry. The Long Island is now occupied by Eastman Chemical Company, originally established by George Eastman as Eastman Kodak. As part of this plan, Kingsport built some of the earliest traffic circles (roundabouts) in the United States.
Kingsport began as a railroad nucleus and grew to an industrial town of 35,000. The Kingsport Improvement Company was the overseer of the master plan. Major building materials were locally sourced: Corning Glass Works made the Pyrex glass from native sand from the river valley basin and local forest products were used for a majority of the early buildings built in the region.
Needing work after leaving Chicago in 1917, Dryden joined D.R. Beeson Architecture. It was while he was there that he caught the eye of Kingsport’s founder, J. Fred Johnson. Johnson handpicked Dryden as “Kingsport’s architect” in residence. Dryden went on to set the standard for quality while designing a record number of houses and civic buildings rounding out the core of the city town center.
In 1922, Johnson promised Dryden the Kingsport architectural business and it was then that he opened the office of Allen Dryden Architects. For the next 50 years, Dryden designed and produced hundreds of diverse buildings, including some of the regions most important structures; churches, residences, civic buildings and schools.
Some of the most notable buildings included Kingsport’s Civic Auditorium and Armory. With a seating capacity of 2,032, the arched-dome design was reportedly the only one its kind in TN and one of only three in the South at the time.
Allandale (the “White House of Kingsport”) was built for residents Mr. and Mrs. Brooks around 1949. It is an Antebellum mansion and a classic example of Georgian Architecture.
Signatures of Dryden’s architectural design include a variety of elements such as Tudor half-timbers, Roman loggias and American colonial boxes. He is credited for a dozens of Kingsport’s Tudor houses (and no two of these residences are alike). He believed in individualizing homes with personal touches, like monograms on chimneys and cut-out symbols on shutters. He also varied front entrances and boasted that of all his colonials, no two fronts were the same. Other of signatures included: protruding flues, copings and chimney pots. His houses had a sense of loftiness, as well. Vertical columns, pilasters and brick patterns contribute to his flawless proportion. He was also a master colorist and displayed an extreme sensitivity to it, preferring muted colors, citing that a home should be a refuge. Understanding ladies’ desire to have tea functions, Dryden’s traditional design consisted of a large central hall connecting the formal dining room and living room off which was a solarium and including a spacious kitchen and butler’s pantry.
A perfectionist, Dryden was known for having his red grease pencil on hand which he used on plans and walls alike. He was not beyond making an X on the wall of a construction site, so that an error must be remedied by tearing down and beginning again.
Upon his passing in 1970, the Board of Directors of Kingsport Federal Savings and Loan Company (on which Dryden served) stated: “Numerous monuments of beautiful, artistic and functional homes, churches, schools and other outstanding buildings are true examples of [Dryden’s] devoted life. He truly was a master architect.”
Dryden’s son, Allen N. Dryden, Jr. starting working for his father in 1950 as a “studio rat”. He was put to work at an early age and naturally stepped into his father’s path. Allen graduated from high school in 1955 and attended Georgia Tech Architecture School, graduating in 1960. After working for a couple of architecture firms in Atlanta, GA, he returned to Kingsport to slowly take over the reins of a growing practice his father had built. Allen N. Dryden, Jr. was inspired by a more modern hand but with a similar affinity of craft as his father. As a young architect during the JFK era, he brought to the firm an affinity for modernism. During his time in Atlanta he was influenced by the early work of John Portman, but had the foundation of classical architecture from his father’s early work.
The work Allen focused on over the next couple of decades included Mason-Dixon Lines, Inc. and Crown Enterprises. He also continued civic work with the City of Kingsport, as well as with schools, churches, universities and healthcare facilities. Dryden, Jr. also continued his father’s passion of designing private residences throughout the region, along with progressive residential communities like Crown Colony, a community inspired by Charles Moore’s Sea Ranch in California.
I was born along with my twin brother, Allen, on May 26, 1972 (the day my grandfather, Allen N. Dryden Sr. was born). At an early age, I could be found following my dad to his office after school and on the weekends. It was not uncommon to find me on a jobsite with my dad, wanting to learn everything I possibly could about building and design.
I entered Architecture School at The University of Tennessee (UT) in 1990, and incorporated everything I had learned from growing up in a small town deeply steeped in Urban Planning and fine-grain Architecture and design. I studied in Eastern Europe for a semester and after graduating, worked as an assistant for UT’s School of Architecture in developing an urban design studio based in Kingsport, created to teach the groundwork that Nolen had started for the Model City, as well as the work that my grandfather and father created through their practice. Needless to say, I was profoundly inspired.
Though my work post graduation, I was exposed to Nashville, Tennessee, and could see the city was on the verge of reinvention. In 1996, I moved to Nashville to begin my own career. I worked for EOA Architects for 5 years and was given many exciting opportunities, including churches, schools, civic projects, urban planning and residences. It was an invaluable experience. In 2002, I started my own practice, as it was hard to not see myself doing the same work that my father and grandfather had done before me. Their influence was profound for me and continues to be a source of both practical and intellectual inspiration.
In 2017, Dryden Architecture and Design (DAAD) celebrated its 15 year anniversary. DAAD is an award-winning architecture and interior design studio based in Nashville, Tennessee, established in 2001. We are dedicated to making meaningful human places that mindfully engage local resources and operate simultaneously as habitat and create a lasting memory. In many ways, our firm has continued the same work started by my grandfather in 1922.
DAAD has completed a diversity of project types, ranging from neighborhood master- plans, mixed-use developments, adaptive reuse projects, private residences, boutique retail, restaurants and corporate offices. We have focused on projects that have significantly impacted neighborhoods and we help to contribute to a healthy flora of the communities we work within, at all levels.
Architecture requires an incredible sense of dedication and creativity. My father just celebrated his 80th birthday and continues to do the work he loves. My son Emmett and my daughter Julia are already showing a familiar interest in ‘making’.
95 years is a long time, and I hope that I can continue the same bridge that my father built for me to connect to my grandfather’s foundation and extend that to my own children, far into the future.