ESa story


“Anyone who has a passion for design should also have a passion for humanity.” This is the belief of ESa’s founder and the foundation of the architecture firm he created. Early in his architectural career, Earl S. Swensson, FAIA, began thinking of buildings as environments. He had come to feel that the function of an architect was to create environments that aided and enhanced human performance. Following through on that belief, he began designing structures that allowed human users to function naturally within the spaces.

This design approach was the guiding principle on which he founded the Nashville-based Earl Swensson Associates, Inc. in 1961, not long after he left a prestigious Chicago design firm. Fifty-four years later, our firm still embraces Mr. Swensson’s philosophy within the course of practice. From a small, one-person architectural practice, ESa has grown to a team of 185 experienced professionals with the intentional goal of designing human-centered environments. The average tenure of ESa’s team members is 16 years.

Earl Swensson’s visionary direction and management style have contributed to the firm’s growth as have the unique talents and expertise of ESa’s other original principals. Raymond M. (Ray) Pratt in 1966 was the first principal to join the firm to head ESa’s construction administration department, which remains today a vital and integral department in the provision of ESa’s architectural services. The late Mr. Pratt’s favorite saying was, “Never assume anything. Always prove it.”

The following year, in 1967, two more original principals joined ESa. Joe D. Crumpacker was brought in and later became ESa’s chief financial officer. His expertise has been invaluable in guiding the firm through the ups and downs of the economy for five decades. Richard L. (Dick) Miller, FAIA, came on board as a project architect and rose through the ranks to become senior architect and president, a position he has held since 1973.

With architects registered in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, ESa has worked in 48 states as well as 16 countries in the design areas of healthcare, senior living, hospitality, education, corporate office, and the arts and community. Over 85 percent of our work is in healthcare design, which includes new greenfield and expansions/renovations of hospitals, medical centers, specialty facilities and medical office buildings across the country and abroad. Our firm is consistently ranked among the top healthcare design firms in the country by Modern Healthcare.

In addition to an extensive healthcare portfolio, ESa has also made an impact on the skyline of its headquarters’ city of Nashville in the design of the famed AT&T Tower (formerly the BellSouth Tennessee Tower and affectionately known as the ‘Batman Building’), which, at 32 stories, is the tallest building in Tennessee. It was recognized in 2009 as one of the 12 most original office buildings in the world by Le Journal du Net, a French online business magazine published in Paris. ESa also designed all four phases of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, which is the largest non-gambling hotel/convention center facility in the country.

Our founder’s belief in human-centered design and in the provision of personal service is at the core of our existence and has resulted in 80 percent of our work being attributed to repeat clients.

This design direction also led to ESa being one of only five architecture and design firms nationally, and the only one in the southeast, to be certified in 2009 as a charter member of the Planetree Visionary Design Network. This certification establishes ESa as a specialist in evidence-based design following the Planetree philosophy and its core components of healing design. Planetree is an internationally recognized leader in patient-centered care in healthcare settings throughout the U.S., Canada, The Netherlands, Japan and Brazil. “This certification is a validation of what our firm has believed in and practiced for years in our design of healthcare and senior living projects,” affirms Dick Miller.

ESa also has a strong foundation in research. In the early 1980s, our firm took a step uncommon to design firms and commissioned a university-based research project that assessed and predicted healthcare industry needs, trends and shifts. Our research is ongoing. In 1995, McGraw-Hill released New Directions in Hospital and Healthcare Facility Design, co-authored by Earl Swensson and Dick Miller. In 2002, the revised edition of this book was released by W.W. Norton as Hospital and Healthcare Facility Design. The third edition was issued in 2012 by W.W. Norton.

Years ago, Earl Swensson coined the term Synergenial Design to describe our work at ESa. This concept constitutes a new direction in architecture, incorporating human-centered design, state-of-the-art engineering and sound economics to create structures that meet physical and emotional needs of the users. Designing for people is, in essence, the heart of our story.