19th Century Roots
BarberMcMurry architects is Knoxville's oldest architectural firm. Its roots can be traced to the firm of George F. Barber, an experienced builder and architect who came to Knoxville from DeKalb, Illinois and founded his largely residential practice in 1888. Barber developed an international following with his designs, which he published in a series of "plan books" created by his Knoxville studio staff. Many houses (most often in the Victorian style) were built throughout the United States and beyond. His pattern approach to residential architecture became very successful and may have helped to inspire the Sears pattern house which followed a decade later.
In His Father's Footsteps
Barber's son, Charles, "grew up" in his father's office and soon followed him into the profession. Charles enrolled in the School of Architecture led by Paul Cret at the University of Pennsylvania. Later, George sent Charles on the traditional Beaux Arts tour of European architecture. After graduation, Charles set up practice in Knoxville and worked with E.A. Seahorn, Dean Parmelee, and cousin David West Barber. In 1915, Ben F. McMurry joined with Barber to form Barber & McMurry Architects. McMurry was also a graduate of Cret's program at Pennsylvania. He and Barber launched into an active practice of recognized styles of design and quickly gained a reputation as leading residential architects.
As time went on, the firm broadened into other types of work. Churches, clubs, office buildings, apartments and schools formed an important part of Barber & McMurry's practice starting in the mid-1920s. The work and reputation of the firm grew during the 1930s and 40s. This included a significant portfolio of educational architecture. In particular, the campus of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville contains a rich display of the work of Barber & McMurry, with nearly half of the campus buildings bearing the firm's signature. During the 1940s and 1950s, the firm became known as a specialist in church design throughout the Southeast. In the latter part of the 20th century, the firm moved into healthcare, designing many new hospitals, medical office buildings and related facilities for regional healthcare systems.
Approaching the Second Century
Just after the turn of the century, the firm modified its name to BarberMcMurry architects. Today, BMa's portfolio comprises a well-rounded base of experience in virtually every building type. As the firm continues to grow and evolve, the current partners embrace the high standards inherited from the firm's founders. Their philosophy espouses that responsible architects fulfill the needs of the client, are responsive to agreed budgets and schedules, and always respect the context into which every new design is placed. The firm's philosophy, espoused by Charles Barber almost a century ago, is that every building must express character in its design and in its effect upon those who use and experience it. Visit our entry in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture for a more in-depth look at our firm's history.