The origins of the Atlanta design firm TSW trace back to 1980, with the founding of its predecessor firm Hull-Mozley Associates. The two principals of that firm, Rob Hull, and James Mozley, worked previously as part of visionary developer Charles Fraser’s in-house planning team at the Sea Pines Company. Fraser, considered by many to be the “father of the modern master planned community”, was responsible for a number of acclaimed coastal resort developments including Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island, as well as Kiawah Island Resort, Amelia Island Plantation, and Palmas del Mar in Puerto Rico. An important hallmark of the Sea Pines planning methodology was a rigorous grounding in McHargian principles of environmental design. Several of Fraser’s protégés went on to be seminal figures themselves in the development industry, and strong advocates of this approach to planning.
Hull, trained at UMass as a Landscape Architect, was Fraser’s Director of Planning for Kiawah. Together with Mozley, an architecture graduate of Georgia Tech, they had worked extensively on this and Fraser’s other projects and assembled an impressive portfolio and an extensive network of industry contacts. Prior to starting Hull-Mozley Associates, Hull was engaged by EDAW to open their office in Atlanta, and Mozley worked briefly for Arvida (at the time, the largest residential developer in Florida) as a project manager. This background and “in-the-trenches” experience provided a unique platform for Hull-Mozley to provide planning and development consulting services to the burgeoning master-planned community industry.
Hull’s EDAW office opened in 1979 on “Baltimore Row”, a historic block of Baltimore-style row houses just north of downtown Atlanta. Bill Tunnell, who was working down the block with Richard Taylor, FAIA (developer of the Atlanta Stove Works) at Taylor & Williams Architects, had formed a friendship and ad hoc working relationship with Rob Hull and left T&W to become Hull-Mozley’s first employee.
The new three-man firm set up offices at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in the old navy office building adjoining the Epps Air Service hangar, down the hall from the storied Downwind Lounge. Hull, an accomplished pilot, and small plane owner believed this would be an advantageous location for both the firm and their fly-in clients. This belief proved questionable at best.
In 1985, Hull and Mozley parted ways. Tunnell chose to remain with Mozley, and together with two other staff members they started Mozley Company, relocating back downtown to offices in the historic Rhodes Haverty Building at Peachtree and Broad Streets (now a Marriott Residence Inn). The new firm continued to provide planning and landscape architecture services to an expanding client base of a primarily master-planned community, resort, and multifamily clients.
Shortly thereafter, Tunnell invited Jerry Spangler, a former architecture school classmate at the University of Tennessee, to join the firm. Jerry moved to Atlanta from Knoxville, where he had been working for several years with McCarty Holsaple Architects. Jerry’s architectural experience broadened the firm’s capabilities, but Mozley, who had never practiced as a licensed architect, was not keen on providing architectural services, so the firm continued to focus on planning and LA work.
In 1989, Jim Mozley accepted an offer from client JMB Realty to take over management of their development interests on the island of Maui in Hawaii, where Mozley Company had been consulting for several years. He sold the firm to Tunnell and Spangler, who founded Tunnell-Spangler & Associates (TSA) in 1990. Bill and Jerry continued to deliver services to Mozley (in Maui and at Molokai Ranch, and then to Palmetto Bluff when Mozley returned to South Carolina) and too much of Mozley Company’s former client base.
Bill and Jerry, both licensed architects, wanted to add architecture to TSA’s menu of services and began soliciting clubhouse clients. Stone Harbor, Jerry’s first clubhouse design, won several awards and launched a new and successful dimension of the firm’s practice that expanded into other sports facility types. They gradually expanded staff, with Bill directing most of the firm’s planning work and Jerry heading up the architecture practice. In 1991 they invited Mack Cain to come on board as the first Director of Landscape Architecture.
When it was announced in 1993 that Atlanta would host the 1996 Olympics, Bill, Jerry, and Mack immediately began positioning the firm for a piece of the resulting cascade of sports facility design work that would be required. TSA assembled and led design teams that were selected to design the tennis venue at Stone Mountain (with Bill as lead), and the equestrian venue, now known as the Georgia International Horse Park, in Conyers (led by Jerry). Ironically, TSA was second runner-up in the selection process for the whitewater canoe venue, on the Ocoee River in Tennessee, which was awarded (much to our dismay!) to a team led by Tom Walsh, then representing the Pickering Firm based in Memphis. Tom had moved to Atlanta to pursue Olympic work for Pickering, and quickly made inroads into the Atlanta market, also winning the commission to re-master plan Piedmont Park for the newly-formed Piedmont Park Conservancy.
It was during this project that Walsh’s and Tunnell’s paths first crossed in 1995. TSA had been selected by the Conservancy to design the first phase of improvements for the park – the “bathhouse” and lakefront pier at 12th Street. Tunnell, TSA’s principal-in-charge, working with Mack Cain, completed this phase of work in parallel with the Walsh master plan.
The Olympics chapter was a major turning point in TSA’s growth, because for the first time the firm was focused on hometown Atlanta as the primary orientation and on the potential of “public/private” endeavors, as opposed to purely private, developer-driven projects. Prior to that, much of TSA’s work was long-distance, in far-flung locations across the eastern seaboard and in Florida, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and even in Europe. Accordingly, neither Bill nor Jerry had been very engaged in local networking, and there were few communities being built then in Atlanta that aligned with their interests.
During the 90’s, the New Urbanism movement had a growing impact on the mainstream development industry nationally, and Atlanta became a focus for NU development with the emergence of highly visible projects like Atlantic Station and Centennial Place. Prior to this transformative period, Tunnell-Spangler’s Mission Statement was focused on community design and land stewardship. The company’s commitment to a multi-disciplinary design approach was rooted in Bill’s and Jerry’s belief that planning, architecture, and landscape architecture are all part of the same design continuum and are all essential to the creation of successful places. The Charter of the New Urbanism clarified and expanded the firm’s commitment to these ideas, and became a driving force in the firm’s work.
Bill and Tom crossed paths again in 1998 at a Congress for the New Urbanism conference in Denver. TSA had been pursuing opportunities to apply NU principles in their work, and had succeeded in landing a couple of notable commissions including the Community Center at I’On, a seminal New Urbanist project in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Tom, who had left Pickering to join LRK (Looney Ricks Kiss) in Memphis two years earlier, was also engaged in New Urbanist projects and eager to move back to Atlanta.
Over a drink and a handshake, Bill and Tom agreed in Denver that a collaboration could make sense. Accordingly, Tom joined TSA in 1999 and quickly helped establish the firm as a significant player in the Atlanta market. Prior to that time, Bill and Jerry had in 1995 purchased and renovated a new office location – 881 Piedmont Avenue (what was then known as “the Chinese building”), near the corner of 7th and Piedmont in Midtown, with the expectation that the firm might grow to a maximum of 20 persons or so. Sustained growth and a stable economy over the following 10 years took company staff to 22 people, and saw a number of significant changes in personnel:
1995: Betsy Walsh (then Betsy Smithson) joined TSA as Office Manager
1997: Mike McDonald replaced Mack Cain as Director of Landscape Architecture
1998: Cindy Cox joined staff (Cindy is now our illustrator as an independent consultant)
1999: Tom was invited to become a Principal of TSA
2000: Adam Williamson joined TSA; Tom replaced Mike McDonald as interim Landscape Architecture Director; Tom and Betsy got married
2001: Caleb Racicot joined TSA at the invitation of Alycen Whiddon, who worked as a TSA principal from 2001 until 2005
2002: Firm name changed to Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh & Associates (TSW)
2004: Associates Heather Hubble (then Powell), Rebekah Calvert (then Morrison), and David Lintott joined TSW
In order to accommodate further anticipated growth, in 2006, TSW relocated to much-expanded quarters at their current 1389 Peachtree Street address. This 13,000 SF leased space, formerly owned and occupied by the architectural firm of Jova Daniels Busby, continues to provide for TSW’s future expansion. However, as a result of the collapse of the housing market in 2007 and the ensuing recession, TSW downsized from 28 employees to a core staff of 13 in 2008, during a period when many competitor firms either failed or were acquired by the A&E conglomerates that now dominate our industry.
TSW was able to survive this challenging period largely due to their expanded public sector planning capabilities under Caleb’s leadership, and by retaining key personnel. We were also fortunate, during this time, to add Associate Woody Giles to our staff in 2008. Before the downturn, TSW had enhanced its reputation as a leading New Urbanist design firm through the success of such Atlanta area projects as Clark’s Grove, Glenwood Park, Vickery, and Woodstock Downtown, and similarly high profile projects elsewhere around the country and overseas. With the gradual recovery of the economy and the housing industry, this reputation propelled TSW into the next economic cycle so that by 2014, staff had rebounded to 22. Senior Associate Bryan Bays was invited to become TSW’s new Director of Landscape Architecture. Bryan has significantly enhanced the firm’s capabilities in this discipline.