Earl Swensson — one of Nashville’s legendary architects and a major supporter of the city’s arts community — has died of undisclosed causes.
He was 91.
Swensson was known for the architectural and interior design firm that bears his name, ESa (Earl Swensson Associates). Having evolved since 1961, the company has designed iconic local buildings including Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center; the BellSouth Tennessee Headquarters (now the AT&T Building); Centennial Medical Center; The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt; and Noah Liff Opera Center.
Swensson earned his bachelor’s degree in building design and a master’s degree in architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He also was awarded an M.S. degree in architecture from the University of Illinois.
After receiving his second graduate degree, Swensson joined the Chicago office of Perkins and Will as a senior design architect.
In addition to being an architect, Swensson was a planner, industrial engineer, real estate developer, teacher and college lecturer, writer, artist, speaker and holder of several patented designs. He was one of the founders of American Retirement Corp., which was later acquired by Brookdale Senior Living Inc.
Swensson was a member of the Board of Advisors for the University of Tennessee School of Architecture and was appointed the 1985-88 chairman. He was also a member of the Architecture Program Advisory Council at Auburn University School of Architecture. Starting in 1958, he was active for several decades in the American Institute of Architects, serving in leadership roles on the local, state and national levels.
In addition, Swensson served as adjunct professor for the School of Architecture at Virginia Tech; as adjunct professor for the Graduate School of Pharmacy at Auburn University; and as a lecturer for civil engineering at Vanderbilt University.
In early 2001, Swensson was named one of Virginia Tech’s top 100 alumni (from throughout the university’s 128-year history). He also held the Jennings and Rebecca Jones Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning at Middle Tennessee State University.
In 2012, Swensson received the William Strickland Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Architects Tennessee.
Swensson served on the founding Board of Directors of the Nashville Business Committee for the Arts. He was honored with the Francis Robinson Award from Nashville Opera Guild in 2011 and an Applause Award from Belmont University at the annual President’s Dinner. In 2010, he received the first-ever Martha Rivers Ingram Arts Visionary Award from the Nashville Arts & Business Council. In 2008, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Nashville Alliance for Public Education.
Swensson was known by colleagues for his “Earl-isms,” including the one-liner: “Architecture is not about the art of enclosing man — but of freeing him.”
The release does not offer funeral arrangements.