Archive for the ‘tennessee’ Tag

Oak Ridge master plan

As one of the Atomic Cities, the massive uranium enrichment plant K-25 sprung up nearly overnight in an isolated river valley 25 miles west of Knoxville during the Manhattan Project, spurred by the proximity to electric power from the TVA projects during the New Deal. The town came into being some years later, as one of the earliest projects of the renowned architectural firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. Looking at the early photos and some of the areas today, it still strikingly modern. I’m not fond of the sprawl of the town, as you can’t really walk from place to place. The commercial areas are pretty cookie-cutter, and the old town square is now somewhat of an afterthought. While that part of town is disappointing, the housing complexes along the hillsides are nicely built and maintained, with plenty of greenery, park spaces, and what appears to be some pride in the modern architectural features. The wonderful photos on the SOM page really show off the mid-century aesthetic of the residences and buildings. While these have inevitably been modified beyond recognition, it does give the impression of the confidence and nation-on-the-move feel of 1950s America. I went on a search for some of those funky home designs, and none of them seem to exist anymore. The apartment buildings are more or less intact, however.

Likely how Oak Ridge was for thousands of years, damp forest floor, ankle deep in rotting leaves.

Likely how Oak Ridge was for thousands of years, damp forest floor, ankle deep in rotting leaves.

SOM apartment buildings with interspersed parkland.

SOM apartment buildings with interspersed parkland.

Apartment detail.

Apartment detail.

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Louis Sullivan’s Virginia Hall, Tusculum College

This is one of Louis Sullivan’s lesser-known buildings, located in Tusculum, Tennessee, about 90 minutes driving east of Knoxville. Here he created a stately, minimalist building, pretty much devoid of the ornament he was known for. In fact, despite being completed in 1901, around the same time as his lavishly decorated Schlesinger and Mayer department store (better known as the Carson Pirie Scott building), and before the first of his Jewel Box banks, it’s an anomaly among Sullivan’s structures. The building is more reminiscent of his very early work with Adler, like his houses in Lincoln Park.

The overall plan is very simple, notable for the roofline, where the nearly blank facade flares out at the very top, perhaps in a nod to his skyscrapers which ‘grow’ out of the ground. But the spare materials suggest that Sullivan had a small budget to work with, and was starting to face his well-documented financial and personal ruin.

Facade, Virginia Hall

Facade, Virginia Hall

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Roof detail, Virginia Hall