Green Loop: From classrom to real world

Friday, June 15, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 24
By Hollie Deese

What started as a class project has the potential to be so much more if the creative forces behind it can get the funding together.

Green Loop, a proposed hub for sustainable business in Nashville, is the brainchild of Courtney Lawrence and Adam Selzer. The concept of an all-in-one home for green business entrepreneurs, complete with sustainable urban farm and community garden, grew from a business proposal they had done for a social enterprise class at Vanderbilt.

That project – growing mushrooms out of recycled coffee grounds from Nashville coffee shops and then reusing the soil for urban gardening – was so well received by the teacher, he offered up his neighbor’s North Nashville warehouse to use.

“They didn’t realize that the warehouse was so big,” says Haley King with Green Loop. “So they knew they could do a lot more with it.”

The building is a 12,000-square-foot rehabilitated ironworks in Hope Gardens just west of Bicentennial Mall.

Much of the industrial aesthetic and existing structure will be preserved in the new Green Loop building, a nod to adaptive reuse. Inside, someday, it may be filled with workers for sustainable-based startups sharing co-working space. All tenants would receive a multi-functional “seed” for their business. Similar to a milk crate, this seed can be adapted to numerous uses and arrangements, from storage to seating.

Jeremy Thompson is one of the consultants from Earl Swensson Associates, which is providing pro-bono architectural consulting and design concepts for Green Loop.

“It’s been a project the younger folks at our firm have taken on as a chance to showcase emerging trends in design and sustainability as a blueprint for ways we can integrate those things into future projects,” he says. “It’s also been a way to design something local and interesting and creative, which isn’t exactly torture either.”

Thompson says is excited to showcase the building’s past with its decidedly forward-thinking future.

“This building has the history of a production building, old ironworks, and we would like to put something back in there that architecturally ties it together so the function of the building in its new state will speak to what it used to be in its old state,” he says.

This has conceptualized that in two ways: One, an I-beam running along the long axis of the building was originally used to hang and transport loads of iron up and down the space. That same space now is to function as Green Loop’s main creativity space, and mobile walls will now run the length of the building to change the form and function as needed.

“That will make the space really adaptable,” he says. “You can partition it off for a series of meeting spaces or turn it into one long wall used as a gallery, or collapse all of them into the back of the space and have it wide open for events. We like the idea that the way the building will be used will speak to the way it historically was.”

There will also be a living wall with plants growing throughout to really showcase the idea of sustainability.

Of course, all of these ideas will take money to complete, a number King estimates to be a few million to get started. This summer marks the beginning of their fundraising stage however, and their goal is to reach $25,000 before fall so construction can hopefully begin sometime in 2013.

There will be a fundraising event in July, and hopefully a block party in September to get acquainted with the neighborhood. The hope is that, down the line, Green Loop is so successful it can be replicated it in other cities.

“When I moved here I remember trying to find a place for green jobs, or a list of green businesses for home supply, or any of those basic items,” King says. “There was nothing online or in Nashville that offered a comprehensive list of green businesses or a list of green events. We want to be that go-to place for people in Middle Tennessee.”