Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Knoxville, Tenn.
Best Project

Owner: Catholic Diocese of Knoxville
Lead Design Firm: BarberMcMurry Architects
General Contractor/Construction Manager: Merit Construction Inc.
Civil Engineer: Cannon and Cannon
Structural Engineer: Ross Bryan Associates Inc.
MEP Engineer: I.C. Thomasson Associates Inc.
Electrical: Facility Systems Consultants LLC
Landscape Architect: Hedstrom Design

First conceived in 2000 and dedicated in March 2018, every part of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville was “designed with intentionality and purpose,” according to the project team. The building totals more than 28,000 sq ft—with a building volume of 1.3 million cu ft and space for 1,000 worshippers. It sits atop 111 concrete piers that are each drilled up to 40 ft into bedrock.

A steel structure clad in concrete masonry unit block and brick, limestone and marble, the cathedral features an eight-sided dome topped by a gold-gilded cross that reaches 144 ft above the cathedral floor. Adorned with custom-cut marble columns and floors from Italy, the church also features granite on its exterior steps, along with 20,000 pieces of Indiana limestone, 300,000 Roman-style bricks and more than 40 miles of custom wood trim and millwork.

The cathedral was constructed along a 500-year flood zone on an active campus. The existing church facility was able to maintain its regular schedule of worship throughout the week as well as four masses on Sunday. The pre-K to eighth grade school, which has an enrollment of more than 725, was able to maintain its regular day schedule as well as evening activities.

Several large lifts were required inside the cathedral to install custom painting and millwork on the ceilings—65 ft above the floor. During the project, millwork crews regularly worked the second shift to be able to construct and install the more than 40 miles of millwork and custom trim. Many of the trim pieces were unique profiles that required knives and blades that were custom made for the project. The millwork required shift work in the evenings and on weekends to maintain productivity, quality control and to avoid conflict with work activity inside the building. For each opening, oversized rail and stile doors were custom-crafted in a local millwork shop after precise field measurements were made.

Precut marble, granite and limestone from around the U.S. and Italy had to be installed with the smallest of tolerances to achieve the specified 1/16-in. grout joints. All the marble was mined, cut and polished in Italy. Custom chandeliers, which were crafted by artisans and weighed approximately 600 lb, had to be located precisely.