University of Tennessee – Student Union

In this project, more than a decade in the making, BarberMcMurry designed the largest construction project ever on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus. The new Student Union replaces an older, smaller university center. 

The Student Union is organized around major circulation routes into and through the campus. These defined routes are transformed into “campus living rooms” within the new facility, and all major programmatic elements are accessed from these atrium corridors. The building is divided into a primary mass and a secondary mass; the primary fronts Cumberland Avenue and is the formal “front door” of the facility. The secondary mass extends southward towards Neyland Stadium, defining one edge of a pedestrian plaza. 

Multi-story atriums flood the space with natural light. In one atrium, a two-story torch sculpture — featuring hand-blown glass flames from Knoxville's Pretentious Glass Company — is a major design element. The building's interiors are carefully curated to reflect the University's brand and history.

The massive building houses the campus bookstore, dining facilities, coffee and snack shops, recreation area, a 1,000-seat auditorium, ballroom, multiple conference rooms and administrative offices. Student services, including admissions, career services, and spaces for student organizations, are also housed in the Student Union. 

    “The design of this new complex gives legible order to a complicated site. Its master-stroke is an emphatic, new pedestrian access that links the university’s historic core to areas severed by the conglomeration of buildings and infrastructure over time."

    AIA East Tennessee Awards Jury

    Joint venture with McCarty Holsaple McCarty Architects.

    Completion Date: Phase 1 – 2015, Phase 2 – 2018

    Type: New Construction

    Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

    Building Area: 395,088 SF

    Services: Architecture, Interior Design

    Use: Education


    • 2021 AIA East Tennessee Merit Award
    • 2020 Keep Knoxville Beautiful Orchid Award for New Architecture
    • 2020 AGC Build Knoxville Award - Commercial Over $50 Million
    • 2017 Hardscape North America Award - Concrete Paver Permeable Commercial
    • 2016 Gold Citation - American School & University Magazine

    Related Projects