Is '50s style a good look for UT Conference Center?

UTConference 004.jpgThe de-tiled façade of the UT Conference Center is pretty ugly now, but that could change starting in the new year.

Jeff Maples, of UT, said this week that a restoration of the building could go to bid in the next four to six weeks, and that it will probably be January before the work begins.

The design firm on the project is CH2M Hill, and architectural department manager Steve Moore said Wednesday that the project will include repairs to the concrete canopy at the bottom of the building. As for the overall look, Moore said, "The plan is to (put it) back exactly, because we do want to maintain the historic significance of the building. So we are going to match the product in appearance and color."

The building was previously decorated with distinctive, blue-glazed tiles, which were taken down for safety reasons, but Moore said several manufacturers around the country still produce them, although he said the lead time to get them is approximately 30 weeks and "they're very expensive."

He added that UT is doing what's necessary to be a good neighbor. "Let's just say they're doing it exactly correct...It would have been a lot easier to spend a lot less money and take care of it," he said.

In July, the executive director of preservation group Knox Heritage had warned against changing the building's look, saying that "it changes the architecture completely when you replace it with some sort of fake stucco or other material that wasn't in keeping with the character of the building."

The Scope's colleague, Roger Harris, takes a dim view of the plans to replace the glazed tile.

No offense to the preservation advocates at Knox Heritage, but some things aren't worth saving. The tile is one of the worst looks for a building in the history of the universe. A Knoxville version of "Bubble Gum Alley" in San Luis Obispo, Calif., would be better than the tile.

The picture below shows how the building looked before the tiles were removed earlier this year.


Bottom photo/Amy Smotherman Burgess


I appreciate the attention to detail they are apparently giving this project, but am I the only one who thought the tiles were ugly in the first place? I fear the same thing is going to happen to KUB's old headquarters on Gay Street - that it will become protected when it is just seventies (or sixties) ugly. I was sort of hoping UT might brick that side to match the other sides. As for the KUB building, I wish someone would figure a way to return it to its previous form - before its time as a KUB center.

Agree completely. Some things, like ugly buildings, should not be preserved. What are we trying to achieve? A reminder to our kids what bad taste we had in the 60's and 70's. This would be a great opportunity to make the building look better, rather than restoring it to the embarrassing eyesore that it was.

This is a great building, I was upset to think that UT might not return this building to the way it was. Does it need some care and a little facelift - sure. But this is IMO far from an ugly building. I am so grateful to the executive director of KH for warning against changing the building's look. I think changing this would be as big of a mistake as recent facade renovations to the Home Federal building on Market Street or the Bank East Building. There is almost an epidemic of people wanting to tear down or reface great examples of Modernism.

in a few more decades, nostalgia might make what you consider ugly now cool and interesting again. there will come a time when the avocado and harvest gold appliances from my youth (that i've always disliked) will be considered trendy.

i hope they preserve the original look, whether by tiles, glazed brick, or porcelain. it's about the exterior color and the mood, and i think that is as worthy of preservation as our oldest buildings.

I remember when the term "historic" was tied to an event or person (hence making a structure historic). Why the Clinch Ave and Church St sides are nothing more than massive red tiled walls (with the exception of a couple, small display windows). Talk about ugly...

Please, let's not lose another piece of Knoxville architectural history. The old Miller's building needs to look like the old Miller's building. I still miss the large Christmas tree out front during the holidays.

I work in the building, and I am very disappointed that UT will spend so much money fixing the facade to make the preservationists happy, while we employees continue to suffer with a very poor heat/air system. We freeze in the summer, but if we complain then we sweat for a week when the AC is completely shut off. Or we burn up in the winter, and again suffer the opposite extreme if complaints are lodged. When we returned to our building after Christmas break, it was 95 degrees (I am not exagerating) because the "chillers" had stopped working. When we ask about the tempurature problems, the answer is always "the system is very old and needs to be replaced, but UT doesn't have the money." But somehow, they have the money to replace what everyone who works here considers to be a very ugly facade. We all actually cheered when the concrete canopy was damaged when they removed the tiles, thinking - finally, we'll get rid of that moldy, ugly and really nonfunctional piece of crap. Now, to hear UT will spend the money to replace the ugliest facade, but not fix our AC/heat is pretty disappointing. If you love it so much, try working here.

I am not a preservationist, but I do love great design and this building is one of the few great buildings in all of downtown. I can't really believe the comments by Roger Harris. It is the single light of hope on the whole block. Not to mention it has to make up for the sad structure across the street (new convention center).
I am longing for the day when people start recognizing good architecture. Where is Old Mr. McCarty when you need him? Until then I am stuck with faux Corinthian columns and vinyl siding.

I agree with Harris. It was hideous and not worth restoring like that. And just who is knox heritage to warn anyone? Who elected them to any authority?

UT should care more about creating an appropriate work environment for the employees in the Conference Center than spending hard-to-come-by funds for a historically appeasing face lift. The tiles lend little to no historic value to downtown or Henley Street. It is more important that UT employees have adequate office space, appropriate cooling and heating, and mold/roach free work places. This is a misguided use of funds and UT needs to reassess its priorities. Knox Heritage is out of place influencing this decision when a public university is struggling with capital funds.

I have witnessed a lot of magically aesthetic tile facades in cities in Spain, as well as in Philly. However, if it were up to me, I would probably put the project up for 'auction' as an art piece. IE. take bids from artists and interest groups who could cover the ugliness with something meaningful to society as a whole. Such a group or artist would have to raise a certain percentage of the funds, have the design approved (for safety and content, obviously) and remove some of the financial burden from the university. An open mind goes a long way towards a win-win.

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