Tennessee Modernism: Daniel House by James Fitzgibbon

Structure: Dr. Robert Daniel House
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: James Fitzgibbon
Date: 1947
Story: In the early 1940s, the University of Oklahoma had two professors, Dr. Daniel and Prof. James Fitzgibbon. Dr. Daniel was a rockstar English professor in his mid 20s. Prof. Fitzgibbon was in charge of campus planning, and taught at the architecture school. Eventually, in the mid 1940s, they parted ways, and Dr. Daniel travelled to Knoxville, Tennessee to teach English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Soon after he arrived, Dr. Daniel decided it was time to build his family a house. So he called up his old friend Prof. Fitzgibbon (who was now teaching at the NCSU School of Design) and asked him to design something for him that was out of the box. “I think most existing dwellings are old-fashioned,” mused Dr. Daniel. “There was [oddly] more freedom of design before the war.”

At that moment in time, framing timber for houses was scarce. So Fitzgibbon got creative: taking inspiration from WWII quonset huts, he designed a structure that was essentially a double-wide quonset hut, with 18 ribs forming the (literal) skeleton of the house.

The construction of the house was a cost-cutting, classroom-esque environment. Fitzgibbon’s student George Qualls supervised the build, UTK students (including a football player, a band member, and a grad student) provided the labor, and input was given by UTK Faculty (namely, art department professor Buck Ewing). Dr. Daniel’s stepson, who was studying architecture under Fitzgibbon, also contributed.

Upon completion, the house was a hit. Architectural Forum covered it in August of 1950, however Dr. Daniel still had one main frustration: guests kept asking him when the quonset hut ribs were going to be covered!

Over time, the house fell into disrepair. But then, in the mid 80s, architect Peter Calandruccio bought + renovated the house. Shortly before he passed away, Fitzgibbon stopped by the house, visiting Calandruccio and looking over the restoration. Calandruccio documented his extensive restoration in a 1986 article of Fine Homebuilding magazine.

As of the time of this blog’s writing, the Daniel House is currently for rent as an AirBNB.

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