Of Terminated Vistas & Tiger Blood

Having whinged for a couple of weeks, I thought I would get back on task and write more specifically about urban design in Chattanooga. As any urban design geek worth his salt, I’ll rely on Kevin Lynch to help frame my observations. In his classic book, The Image of the City, Lynch outlined five elements that people consistently use to mentally map their environment: paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks. But rather than slavishly churn out another Lynchian analysis, I’m going to use that framework to describe some other random conditions. This week, let’s look at terminated vistas in downtown.

A “terminated vista” is, as the name implies, a view that focuses on a consciously chosen object or scene. In common practice the view or visual corridor is usually a street (or path in Lynch’s parlance). Although it’s a stretch, I’ve always made a connection between the terminated vista and Lynch’s landmark element. While landmarks need not be the focus of a terminated vista, and a vista need not terminate in a landmark, I find that the two are mutually supportive. But in as much as they support each other they also beg of each other. This relationship escalates with the level of quality or importance of the elements. An important landmark wants to be the focus of a view or views. A well-traveled, open visual corridor wants to be paid off with a focal element where it ends or shifts.

In Chattanooga, we have some good terminated vistas, some opportunities for the future, and a couple of places where we’ve eff’d it up. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, but it’s fairly representative.  Let's have a look…

The best two terminated vistas in Chattanooga are the 8th Street/Dome Building pair and the Holmberg Bridge/Hunter Museum pair:
Hunter Museum from Holmberg Bridge
The Dome Building at 8th & Georgia

I'm also quite partial to the following:
First Methodist Church Steeple
on Georgia Ave.
Waterhouse Pavilion in Miller Plaza
at a shift of MLKing
St. Johns Building
at a shift in Market St.
Lest I paint too rosy a picture and in the interest of equal time, I offer you a poor terminated vista:
Looking to the future, we have some great opportunities to add some special detail to our city. Here are a couple of places where deft handling of a vista will make a big impact:
Eastern terminus of Patten Parkway
SE corner of Main & Market
So, who gives a damn? Why does this matter? Well, that depends on your life perspective. If you define life by its functions: eating, breathing, sleeping, defecating and procreating, then this doesn't really matter much. However, if life is measured by the sum of our experiences and relationships, then this matters a great deal. Mies* once said that God is in the details. When a designer arranges elements in a way that acknowledges you and your position in space and time, he is effectively speaking to you. Oh, the joy of happening upon a place where a designer has left a gift for you. Communing with another human being across time and through the medium of the built environment is a powerful experience. In the grand scheme of life, who is to say that that experience is less important than our national deficit, the ups and downs of the stock market, or what Charlie Sheen is doing these days?


  1. I'm not sure this qualifies as a terminated vista or not, but I've always loved the route going down Forest to Frazier for many of the same reasons listed above. The whole city kind of opens up.

  2. I, like David, love the view ascending from Forest. It's a bit of joy to start down the hill at daybreak.

  3. i thought i did this before, but alas, a recurring pattern; my comments are lost in some kind of vortex. maybe this will work this time:
    excellent post, as always C-Rush. once again your ability to combine graphics with some poignantly relevant topics back to a general principle of good city design is perfect. The north termination of Chestnut St. I admit, you surprised me. 8th at Dome; dead on. MLK at Pavilion; dead on (which by the way becomes much more readily apparent to the avergae downtown inhabiter with the 2-way conversion. who realized this was a termination (and a quite nice one) until we once again allowed west-bound traffic on MLK).

    But, then, the fake railroad depot parking attendant structure at the termination of our city with the river. It's so clear with your framing of the principle (terminated vistas) and examples of other locations that people can imagine (glass bridge at the Hunter) and clearly understand. Then just showing the photograph - it hardly needs words.

    By the way, one other thought that I pound on every time I get is that Chestnut - particularly he block from Riverfront parkway to 2nd street is perhaps the city block in most need of on-street parking (if at least for a 6PM -6AM and weekends only kind of thing). And it's relevant to the terminated vistas converation. On-street parking is not just about adding capacity, because frankly the 16 or so spaces you could get on one side of the street would pale in comparison to the 500 or so in the garage above Blue Plate. But the perception of easily available parking is huge. Also, and more important, is that the on-street parking provides a dynamic edge to what otherwise is a pretty vaccum-like block. The Aquarium loading dock, a still very underutilized city green, a surface parking lot, shielded with evergreen shrubs. The presence of parking would provide a level of come and go activity that would do wonders for a terminated vista appropriate to the scale of the city. The design of Chestnut block from Riverfront to 2nd would be a fun hypothetical project. What's the appropriate object to put at its north termination. Something clearly that could serve as an information kiosk for visitors (as I understand the little brick shack is intended to do). But also, perhaps, a tower for observation of the river and urban ecology. Offices for friends of riverbend or river gorge trust? Just a giant sculpture. A mast for a col zip line that goes over to Renaissance Park? A gold dome? A windmill to symbolize the city commitment to emissions free energy?

    Thanks for juicing me this morning.