The University of Tennessee has a mix of lush trees and grassy areas mixed with historic orange-tinted brick buildings, all set next to the Tennessee River, a setup that gives the homey feeling Rocky Top is known for .
From a bird’s eye view, the UT campus looks pretty uniform. But as you walk around campus, you’ll notice that some buildings feature an assortment of odd shapes, colors, and patterns that add even more character and charm to the campus.
Who better to discuss UT’s funkiest buildings than an English major with next to zero knowledge of architecture? To add a little more credence to this article, I asked my dad, Mark Hayes, who graduated from UT law school and claims to know a “little bit” about architecture, to give an honest critique of the buildings.
For grumpy dads who like to comment on buildings and give their kids’ college “dad’s inspection,” here’s an honest, judge-a-book-by-its-cover review of the “worst” buildings in the world. UT by a daughter and her grumpy dad certified.
The septic tank
It’s a running joke among UT students that the Arts and Architecture building is actually the worst building on campus. Sitting next to the Clarence Brown Theater and across from the Humanities Building, its white cement walls and odd placement of windows give it an industrial feel. According to my father, “the exterior is a dull monolith resembling a septic tank”.
Despite its boring exterior appearance, the building, designed by UT alumnus Doug McCarty, is an award-winning edifice.
Walking through the doors, however, you would never believe it’s the same building. As my father notes, “the exterior belies the grand interior.”
The interior of the building is open and airy, with sunlight filtering through the windows on the top floor. The staircase is the center of attention, constructed in a zig-zag pattern that resembles a postmodern version of the Hogwarts staircase.
“The interior is great. I was studying there,” my father said.
To offset the drab exterior, the interior has pops of color — royal blue on part of the walls, reddish-brown tiled flooring — and a few trees have grown in the center of the ground floor.
Next on the list is the building with the most foot traffic and the one every UT student recognizes: Hodges Library.
Hodges is not only recognizable by his size but also by his special shape. Each of the library’s six levels is separated by distinct square edges that wrap around the building, making it look like several sets of stairs that lead to a small cube at the top.
Jennifer Akerman, an assistant professor in the College of Architecture and Design, spoke at UT about the library design of an article from 2017.
“I see the design of the Hodges Library as more like a hill or a mountain than a ziggurat. Considering it a mountain seems appropriate given the terrain of eastern Tennessee and our campus’ relationship to that landscape,” Akerman said.
Hodges appears in numerous articles, receiving criticism for being one of the ugliest buildings on a college campus. An article in particular notes that Hodges “reminiscent of a LEGO building for children”. Not far from what Mark Hayes had to say.
“It looks like it was built by a child by piling up wooden blocks,” my father said.
The same orange-tinted brick that appears on most other buildings at UT, coupled with the mountainous shape of the library, reminded my dad of the red dirt hills of the badlands.
As for the interior, the first two floors resemble a large, sophisticated library due to its open floor plan, high ceilings, and split staircase. Upper floors, which are designated study floors, aren’t as grand due to carpeting and intense fluorescent lighting, but nothing beats the view of the UT campus from top-floor windows. .
The inn of the 60s
Right next to UT Rock is the most colorful building on campus, the Haslam Music Center.
The building is flat and rectangular in shape and is painted a turquoise green and seafoam color that reminded my dad of a 1960s Holiday Inn. to a house on stilts.
The one that the football team knocked down
The Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) building itself isn’t much to look at – just another flat, rectangular, beige brick building. But what makes for an interesting sight is the building a few feet away.
The McClung Tower is roughly similar to the HSS, except the tower is in an upright position while the HSS is laid on its longer side, the two forming an L-shape.
“Did they build two buildings and one collapsed? said my father. “Or maybe the football team pushed it as a prank.”
The final stop on the UT buildings tour is the spectacle that is Ayres Hall. Built in 1921, no other building on campus showcases the charm, character, and history of the University of Tennessee quite like Ayres. My dad continues to be speechless about this building years after graduating from UT.
“Even a grumpy dad is impressed with this building,” my dad said.
Ayres is the most collegiate building on campus. It looks like what I imagine a 1930s boys private school building to be like. I remember wishing during my first year orientation that all my classes were in Ayres because of how it emanates from the dark academia.
Ayres Hall sits atop the hill on the UT campus, towering above all other buildings not only in physical appearance but also in location. Although it’s a hike to climb the hill to see it, it’s fascinating to see the bell tower, adorned with a chiming clock set just above the classic checkerboard print.
“Why did they paint the end zone? said my father.