Tennessee Modernism: The Modernist Fraternities of University of Knoxville, Tennessee

In 1965, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) decided that it was time to upgrade their Greek life. The school proposed a Fraternity Park, complete with 13 new frat houses…all designed by local architects.

The frat houses were designed around a common property that included streets, sidewalks, parking, and recreation areas. Not all of them were mid-century modern, so I’m leaving off the traditional houses.

The frats were all located in Knoxville, Tennessee, and they were all built in 1965, so I’ll leave that out of the building details. And you know, speaking of brevity, I won’t waste too much more time with the background: it’s a block of frat houses, you get the idea. Let’s jump into the architecture!

Structure: Sigma Alpha Epsilon
Architect: Barber & McMurry
Tidbit: The tree in the center of the courtyard was called the “make-believe tree.” Design wise, looks like those windows never materialized and the tree ended up on the outside of the exterior wall. Also, did those arches not get built either?

Structure: Kappa Alpha
Architect: Painter, Weeks & McCarty
Tidbit: This eventually became Phi Kappa Psi

Structure: Sigmi Phi Epsilon
Architect: Painter, Weeks & McCarty
Tidbit: This mildly interesting frat got a huge remodel in 2011 and is now, uh, not so interesting

Structure: Pi Kappa Alpha
Architect: Painter, Weeks & McCarty

What’s interesting about Pi Kappa Alpha is nine years earlier, in 1956, Painter, Weeks & McCarty had done a rendering for a new building that I don’t think was ever built

Structure: Zeta Beta Tau
Architect: Good & Goodstein
Tidbit: This house is now Pi Kappa Phi

Structure: Sigma Nu
Architect: Abernethy & Robinson
Tidbit: the only non-Knoxville architects, Abernethy & Robinson were located in Johnson City, Tennessee. The original building might have implemented a curved front, possibly modified after the original structure was built. It could also be that my black and white rendering is just not showing that detail. The building, despite its uniqueness, was torn down and replaced with a super generic building sometime in the 2010s.

Structure: Lamda Chi Alpha
Architect: Lindsay & Maples
Tidbit: this house is now Alpha Epsilon Pi

Structure: Delta Tau Delta
Architect: W. Glenn Bullock
Tidbit: this house is still in fantastic condition, which is awesome because it draws some strong design inspiration from the famous architect Louis Kahn

First Unitarian Church in Rochester, New York (1961) by Louis Kahn

Structure: Alpha Tau Omega
Architect: Morton & Sweetser
Tidbit: This structure was essentially remodeled into oblivion. Sometime around 2007, a pitched roof was added along with a new foyer which kind of ruined the whole effect.

Tennessee Modernism: Knoxville Baptist Tabernacle by Margaret Pinkston

Structure: Knoxville Baptist Tabernacle
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
Architect: Margaret Pinkston
Date: 1967
Tidbit: Margaret Pinkston was not your ordinary architect. For starters, she was maybe one of the smartest minds in Knoxville. She studied at the International Correspondence School in Scranton, PA, and graduated with four diplomas (one was in architecture, one was in interior design). When she came to Knoxville, Albert Baumann (of Baumann & Baumann) encouraged her to pursue a career as an architect. She eventually wound up working at the Knoxville firm Morton & Sweetser.

Margaret Pinkston (right) discusses her design for a house (below) with the home’s owner

It was during this time at Morton & Sweetser that Pinkston designed a church for a 150 member congregation of baptists who worshipped out in East Knoxville. Pinkston was a member at the church, so it was natural that the pastor of the church (Dr. Bob Bevington) asked her to design something that was “conservative modern.”

Her design still stands, proudly featuring a 1,000-person sanctuary (sporting a unique v-shaped sloping roof), breeze blocks, and myriad of stained glass.

I will say, the shape of the sanctuary’s roof reminds me of another Knoxville church (pictured below) whose architect is currently unknown.