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VOL. 127 | NO. 52 | Thursday, March 15, 2012

100 Years of Design

Evans Taylor Foster Childress celebrates centennial

By Sarah Baker

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Evans Taylor Foster Childress, which celebrates its centennial in March, can trace its origins to two distinguished Memphis architectural firms.

Evans Taylor Foster Childress designed the new Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway/University of Memphis Athletic Hall of Fame.

(Photo Courtesy of Evans Taylor Foster Childress)

George Mahan Jr. founded Mahan and Broadwell in 1912; it later became Coleman Foster Architects. Nathan/Evans/Taylor was founded in 1958 by Francis Gassner and Thomas Nathan.

Today, known by many as ETFC, the 13-employee firm is led by partners Rusty Taylor, Rusty Foster and Michael Childress. The firm’s practice includes a broad range of projects for business, government, education, industry, health care, research laboratories and criminal justice.

“Our legacy is 1912, that’s how it all happened,” Taylor said. “When we merged, there were several name changes, but it was a continuous operation, there was no buy-out, it was a straight merger.”

Older than ETFC’s heritage is its office at 343 N. Main St. in the Pinch District.

It’s an environment that fosters creativity for the modern and contemporary design that the firm produces, which over the years has ranged from the original FedEx Corp. headquarters in the 1980s on Airways Boulevard to the Crescent Center at Poplar Avenue and Interstate 240 to the original C&I Bank building that’s now the Visible Music School on Madison Avenue.

“If you’re around long enough, your buildings start recycling, either get knocked down or they find a new use for them,” Taylor said, citing facilities like the St. Joseph’s Hospital at 220 Overton Ave., the spot where part of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital now sits. “That’s happened more than once.”

ETFC’s work with St. Jude stems back to 1961, when Danny Thomas came to Memphis with his friend and architect, Paul Williams.

“They chose to work with a local firm, that local firm was George Mahan,” Taylor said. “So that firm and us have continued working over there since 1961. We’re doing a large project over there right now, so it’s been a great relationship.”

That project is a seven-story, 330,000-square-foot tower in conjunction with The Crump Firm Inc. that will provide proton therapy instead of traditional radiation therapy for cancer patients.

“We’ve worked for every hospital in town – St. Francis, Baptist, Methodist, Le Bonheur, the Regional Medical Center,” said Foster, who oversees ETFC’s health care projects. “Most of our business is repeat business and referral. That’s really where we get most of our work from.”

That’s because when competing for projects, ETFC strives to set itself apart from other firms.

“Almost every project we do, one of the three of us is involved in the project throughout the project, it’s not just handed down,” Foster said. “That’s a complaint from clients sometimes, they’ll see a principal come to the first meeting, sign the contract and never hear from them again until the ribbon cutting. We don’t do that.”

Besides health care, a good portion of ETFC’s business comes from corrections work, which, again, traces back to the days when Mahan’s firm designed the Shelby County Criminal Justice Complex.

A major past and present client is Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America, with whom Childress works very closely with. ETFC’s relationship with CCA has led it to projects such as last year’s completion of the Hardeman County Justice Center in Bolivar, Tenn., and the DeSoto County Jail in Hernando now under construction.

In total, ETFC has planned facilities in nearly 30 states from Indiana to California represent more than $1 billion in construction dollars. The firm currently has a satellite office in West Memphis and has projects in Mississippi, Kentucky and even Afghanistan.

“We’re more regional now, I’d say in the Tri-State areas,” Taylor said. “That’s kind of our target.”

That’s not to say ETFC isn’t heavily involved in design locally, especially with university planning. For the University of Memphis alone, ETFC designed practice and game facilities that house the men’s baseball, football and basketball teams, as well as the Tigers’ basketball locker room inside FedExForum.

The firm also designed the newly completed Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway/University of Memphis Athletic Hall of Fame and the new locker room inside the Elma Roane Fieldhouse for the women’s basketball team.

ETFC has its own interior design component, a luxury many smaller companies can’t afford. The firm has considered expanding its marketing efforts to social media sites, but right now, it’s not a priority.

Perhaps that’s because the three partners come from an era when sketches started on paper instead of computers.

“To me, it’s the reason I got into the job,” Taylor said. “I like to draw and I still do, I love to sketch. I don’t know how the new people create architecture without doing that, but they do.”

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