Tennessee Modernism: Burlington Branch Library by Mario Bianculli

Structure: Burlington Branch Library
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Prototype architect: Mario Bianculli
Library architect: Bealer & Wilhoit
Date: 1947
Story: In 1945, the librarians of Tennessee came up with a brilliant idea to have TVA Chief Architect Mario Bianculli design a modern library prototype design that could be easily recreated whenever the state needed a new library.

In 1947, two years after Bianculli finished his prototype, Tennessee’s librarians were ready to test this prototype out. Knoxville, Tennessee was in need of a new library brach, so, with support from local businessmen, a garden club, the PTA, and several churches, they worked worked with local architectural firm Bealer & Wilhout to actualize the first iteration of the library.

The design was very well received, so much so that Architectural Forum did a write-up of the building (in May of 1947). The building still stands and although its been less-than-sensitively modified, the original core is still in decent shape. The extension isn’t half bad, but the removal of the full glass windows is a bummer.

Google Street View of the former library building

Tennessee Modernism: Mission 66 (feat. Clingmans Dome Observation Tower)

The National Park Service (NPS) had a problem. When the NPS was created (in 1916), travel was primarily done by train. In fact, some railroad companies were responsible for the building and operation of national park visitor centers. But with the rise in popularity of the car (and the advent of the US highway system), travelers could now access parks that previously weren’t accessible. This brought about a need for new visitor centers in new places.

So, in 1955, NPS Director Conrad Wirth proposed a program (funded by the federal government) to create new visitor centers (among other facilities) all across the national parks. The goal was to have the various structures and improvements done by 1966 (the 50th anniversary of the NPS). The program was dubbed Mission 66.

A decision was made by Thomas Chalmers Vint (the director of design and construction) to design these new structures in the modernist style, reflecting the modernity of not only the NPS but also the park visitors.

Let’s take a whirlwind tour of some of the amazing visitor centers that were built all across the US.

Quarry Visitor Center by Anshen & Allen (Jensen, Utah). The circular portion has been demolished.
Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center by Rogers & Poor (Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina)

Painted Desert Community by Richard Neutra & Robert Alexander (Apache County, Arizona)

Sunset Crater Visitor Center by Cecil Doty (in Flagstaff, Arizona)

Alright. Enough non Tennessee structures, let’s talk about the two Mission 66 structures here in the Volunteer state.

Structure: Sugarlands Visitor Center
Location: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Architect: Eastern Office of Design and Construction (EODC)
Date: 1960
Tidbit: The structure was just restored in 2013 and is in really great shape. That’s it. That’s the tidbit.

Structure: Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
Location: Sevier County, Tennessee (35°33′46″N 83°29′55″W)
Architect: Bebb & Olsen
Date: 1959
Tidbit: Built as a part of Mission 66, the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower caused quite a stir when its design was revealed in 1958. Apparently Hubert Bebb and Raymond Olsen’s design was a bit too modern for the national audience. However, it was very popular with locals and, a year later the tower was built.

Of note, the Shark Valley Observation Tower (designed by architect Edward M. Ghezzi in 1964) bears a striking resemblance to the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower. Great artists, I suppose?