Tennessee Modernism: TVA Office by Vincent G. Kling

Structure: TVA Operations Office Building
Location: Chattanooga, Tennessee
Architect: Vincent G. Kling
Date: 1965
Tidbit: In 1965, the TVA had a problem: their offices were scattered throughout 18 offices in Downtown Chattanooga, not exactly an efficient use of space. Progressive Architecture said the scattered TVA buildings “resemble[d] the organization of items in a woman’s purse.” 😂

To simplify their footprint, the TVA commissioned architect Vincent G. Kling to design them new operations office. The 540,000 square foot building would have been perched on the banks of the Tennessee River, just below the Chickamauga Dam. The serpentine-style of the building was meant to reflect the winding nature of the river it set beside.

Although the beautifully designed building’s planning stage got a feature in Progressive Architecture (April 1965), the structure never left said planning stage and was not built.

15 years after Kling’s proposal, the TVA would end up building new offices for its operations. The buildings (pictured below) were located in downtown Chattanooga (versus overlooking the river) and the design was considerably less inspired than the one Kling originally proposed.

The TVA’s current office buildings in downtown Chattanooga

You can see the archival footage from its 1982 opening here.

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 modern library prototypes which could be easily recreated whenever the state needed a new library.

The prototypes were, as you might imagine, differentiated by how many books they could hold. Let’s have a look at the different variations

Type 1A (pictured) could hold 2,600 books. A larger version, type 1B (not pictured) could hold 3,300 books.

Type 4 was a full blown county library and could hold 10,000 books.

In 1947, two years after Bianculli finished his prototypes, Tennessee’s librarians were ready to give his Type 2 prototype a test run. West Knoxville, Tennessee was in need of a new library brach and so, with support from local businessmen, a garden club, the PTA, and several churches, the city worked worked with local architectural firm Bealer & Wilhoit to turn Bianculli’s prototype into an actual building.

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.

Original drawings of Clingmans Dome Observation Tower by Hubert Bebb

Despite its controversy, the tower was quite popular with the locals and so, a year after it was announced, 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?