Our foundation is human-centered design.

What Drives Us

We believe that a firm’s philosophy should steer its attitudes, actions, and daily process.
These core principles guide us:

1. Listen First

Amazing things happen in architecture when open and ongoing communication takes place. And the best ideas—the creative, long-lasting, practical ones—come only after listening first. By closely partnering with our clients, we make sure that the people most impacted by the building are the ones who live and work in it.

2. Problems Have Solutions

Problems are simply disguised possibilities. We thrive on solving them with ingenuity, humility, and experience, aided by the tools of research, benchmarking, evidenced-based design, and expanding technology. 

3. Look Forward

We’re proud of our past, but our eye is on the future. With a holistic approach that celebrates both form and function, we create healthy spaces that improve the quality of life for those inside while protecting the world outside.

Where We Work

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Our History

In 1960, Earl Swensson, a young designer at a nationally acclaimed architectural firm in Chicago made the bold decision to move his young family back to his hometown of Nashville. Within a year, he started his own firm with his wife Sue as his first employee. While the setting of Nashville was dramatically different architecturally from that of Chicago, Earl had a vision about what Nashville could be and wanted to be part of its future.

Earl Swensson
Earl Swensson, founder

The eager entrepreneur started his design portfolio based upon a knowledge of designing schools and a recently acquired skill for apartment design. He revolutionized the landscape with his design of state-of-the-art garden apartments throughout Middle Tennessee.

By the late ‘60s, Earl had surrounded himself with strong leadership. These three men became Earl’s associates and vice presidents: Dick Miller, FAIA, Joe Crumpacker and Ray Pratt. Together, these four principals led the small 20-person firm in the early ‘70s to the largest architectural firm in the State of Tennessee, growing to nearly 200 employees today. With the retirement of Joe Crumpacker and the death of Ray Pratt in 2009, Principal Todd Robinson entered a leadership role.

Not only has the size of the firm grown over the years, but the areas of design have grown as well. Nashville landmark projects of Opryland Hotel in the mid-1970s and the AT&T Tower (formerly the BellSouth Tennessee Headquarters building) in 1994 helped launch growth into many markets. The most notable of these markets is healthcare, with the firm’s experience in this market dating back to the late 1960s. Today, ESa is consistently ranked among the top national healthcare design firms by Modern Healthcare.

A base of over 80 percent of repeat clients can be attributed, in large part, to Earl’s passion for design, a focus on relationships and ESa’s reputation for attentive client service. A strong background in research, that continues today, has been responsible for some inroads in previously untested areas of design. These foundational elements have lead to steady growth in project types and geographic exposure for the firm.

In 1995, McGraw-Hill released New Directions in Hospital and Healthcare Facility Design, co-authored by Earl Swensson, FAIA, and Dick Miller, FAIA. In 2002, the revised edition of this book was released by WW. Norton as Hospital and Healthcare Facility Design. The third edition, which was also co-authored by Todd Robinson, AIA, was released by W.W. Norton in 2012.

ESa celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2021 by honoring its employees and thanking clients for making this milestone possible. And, going forward, the firm upholds Earl’s legacy through the creation of environments that shape lives.

Our goal is to provide clients with a valuable built environment that positively impacts people for generations.

— Eddie Lewis

ESa office building ESa office lounge Gulch Crossing main floor ESa office building front entry