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BAC Alumni Redesign Music City

BAC alumni Scott Harootyan, Manuel Zeitlin, and Andy Grogan

The Nashville area has been steadily growing over the last five to 10 years. An historic city with a rich music history and scene, noteworthy Southern restaurants, and a growing meeting and convention market, Nashville is attracting young adults, families, business travelers, and tourists. Three Boston Architectural College (BAC) alumni have come together in Nashville and are changing the city through their designs.

It started with Manuel Zeitlin, B.Arch '81. Originally from Nashville, Manuel came to Boston to look at Harvard and MIT for graduate school. On this same trip, Manuel stopped by the BAC to meet up with a friend. He was so blown away by the school's energy that he enrolled at the BAC. Homesick for his hometown, he returned to Nashville after he graduated and opened his firm, Manuel Zeitlin Architects (MZA) in 1981.

In 2015, Manuel had the opportunity to hire fellow BAC alumni Andy Grogan, M.Arch '10, and in 2016, Scott Harootyan, M.Arch ‘15, joined the firm. "Andy and Scott are delightful, thoughtful, articulate, and highly capable, not to mention very talented. Making it all the way through the BAC is quite an accomplishment," says Manuel. "There is a self-sufficiency and confidence gained, along with a great base of professional skills that probably isn't typical of graduates from most programs."

After earning his Master of Architecture in 2010, Andy spent a few years working in Western Massachusetts, before he and his wife decided that they wanted to be closer to their families in Georgia and Tennessee, so they returned to Nashville, and Andy started looking for a job.

Andy knew of Manuel through a mutual friend, saying, "I knew of him because he's played an important role in Nashville's development over the last 30 years. But more importantly, I think he and I both respected the perspective and judgement of the mutual friend that introduced us. So, from our first conversation, we were on a similar page. For me it's all about collaborating with the right people."

Manuel managed his firm for 34 years before hiring a fellow BAC grad. One year later, Manuel had the chance to add another BAC alumnus to his team.

After Scott earned his Master of Architecture in 2015, he and his wife were looking to move. They had visited Nashville before and "loved the southern hospitality and overall vibe." Scott starting looking up design firms in Nashville, found MZA, and Manuel brought him on board.

Located in a renovated historic warehouse that it shares with Zeitgeist Art Gallery, MZA has been part of Nashville's development for almost four decades. "Thirty-seven years ago, we were only one of a handful of architects practicing both modern design and historical preservation in Nashville. It also had a very suburban oriented planning focus. Both of these are no longer the case," says Manuel.

Manuel, Andy, and Scott are playing an integral role in designing Nashville's future. Says Andy, "Nashville is undergoing the kind of growth that people will write books about decades from now. It's one of those periods in time that redefines a city. Much good is happening, but there's also a personal sense of loss as many places I remember from almost 30 years ago are disappearing."

Scott agrees, adding, "Nashville is not a particularly large city but has so much growth and development that, particularly in the architecture field, it offers the opportunities of a larger city, such as Boston, to work on important projects that will help shape the city. Knowing that you have the chance to leave your mark on Nashville with a project you can be proud of as a designer is a really special thing."

Manuel has seen this growth coming for quite some time. "Perhaps the reason Nashville has become known as ‘The It City' may be because Nashville is in the process of becoming a real city. Our work has been about exploring new territory, literally and conceptually, about weaving together holes in the fabric of the city, which was the focus of my thesis at the BAC, about connecting people and places, and about creating exciting, and often healing, places throughout the city."

Looking at his firm, Manuel sees a raw quality to a lot of the work done by his team. "We always try to stay fresh and inventive while connecting to a specific location and client, so each project is fairly unique. Sustainability is of utmost importance for us as a firm, and we are taking steps to push our growth of capability in that area. I guess we're always striving to be as creative and sensitive to design and environment and users, known and unknown, as we can. I think we're always trying to grow and learn, and I guess, like a lot of architectural students, we're still trying to save the our own way."

As their designs continue to bring about change in Nashville, Manuel, Andy, and Scott are enjoying the opportunity to work together, appreciating that the three of them found themselves in the same city over 1,000 miles from where they earned their architecture degrees. In talking about their BAC connection, the trio share similar thoughts. Says Scott, "It's cool to know that they've gone through the same process, lived in Boston, which is really an amazing city, and that our lives and careers share a common thread. We all know how exhausting and consuming the experience is, and how much self-motivation and dedication it requires to get your degree, so I think it gives BAC alumni a lot of respect for others who have been through it as well."

"There is definitely a sense of pride that we share, because we all feel it is a unique and special place and that we are all better architects because of it," adds Manuel. For his part, Andy was "elated to discover that Manuel went to the BAC. It meant I didn't have to explain the program to him, and it created a nice link back to Boston." Now that Scott has joined the team, the BAC bond in the office has only gotten stronger, with Andy quipping, "We're the BAC South!"

Nashville Craft Distillery

Nashville Craft Distillery, designed by Manuel Zeitlin and team; image credit: Nashville Craft Distillery

Fairlane Hotel

Fairlane Hotel, designed by Manuel Zeitlin and Andy Grogan; image credit: Fairlane Hotel

Before and After Photo of Fender Building

Before & After of MZA's renovation of the Fender Building on Nashville's Music Row; designed by Manuel Zeitlin, Andy Grogan, and Mark Bixler; image courtesy of MZA