Gaines Group Architects
UVA School of Architecture

After 19 years, things look very much the same at the UVA School of Architecture

After 19 years, things look very much the same at the UVA School of Architecture

UVA School of Architecture

This past week I returned to the UVA School of Architecture to give a lecture on sustainable design. Walking through the studios many things are the same as when I was an undergrad student. From the scraps of paper on the floor, parts and pieces of models. wood hutch storage cabinets on the desks to Frank on the wall, things appeared to be very much the same.

UVA School of Architecture

W.G. Clark had a nice display of his years of work in what used to be a jury room. The bass wood models and prototype studies brought back memories.

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Some things have been upgraded since I graduated. The naug lounge has bright colors and new seating.

UVA School of Architecture

Instead of drafting boards there are computers and 3D printers.

UVA School of Architecture

There was one change that was very disappointing. The model of Jefferson’s University built in 1926 used to have a prominent display area in the naug. Now it has been discarded to a corner under the stair with recycling bins and ladder storage. This model should have a premier location to celebrate the history of the University and model building. 

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Returning to School of Architecture each year to present on green building is a joy for me. I love seeing what the students are working on and challenging a new generation to think about design through a sustainable lens. As time passes the landscape around the architectural building, Campbell Hall, has changed dramatically, but the heart of the Architectural School, the studio, remains a vibrant place of discovery, debate, and investigation.


The Architecture of the University of Virginia


The Architecture of the University of Virginia is incredible and getting a tour of it led by Edward Lay is even better. Each year for the past 3 years, I have organized a tour for Department of Energy employees to show them building developed with sustainability in mind. Thomas Jefferson did just that with the Academical Village. He believed that an architect should design for their seventh generation, a concept he found in the Iroquois Constitution.


Almost 200 years ago, Jefferson created his vision for the Academical Village. The Rotunda, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome was originally finished in 1826. In 1853 an addition was built on the rear of the building and in 1895 it burnt due to an electrical fire. It was rebuilt and modified by Stanford White in 1899.


Now the building stands in a sea of scaffolding as it is once again being repaired and restored.

As we walked the lawn, we noticed George Washington has an energy drink – must have been a long night.


Stanford White also designed Cabell Hall, Cocke hall, and Rouss Hall that are at the opposite end of the Lawn from the Rotunda. It was Jefferson’s vision to leave the end of the lawn open – symbolizing the idea that one is never finished learning. The open view was unfortunately closed in with these new buildings at the direction of the Board of Directors.


The UVA Chapel, in a Gothic Style, was built on grounds in 1890. It was designed by Charles Cassell. While many universities of the time had the religious building as the main focus of the campus, Jefferson believed that the Library (Rotunda) should be the heart of the University.


Author and Professor Emeritus Edward Lay led a wonderful tour. He shared many stories, ideas, and of course historical facts.


Pavilion X has been restored to include the attic parapet and flat roof  as Jefferson originally designed it. It also no longer has the glossy white paint taking on a more sand tone closer to what would have been done originally. This is the first in a series of future renovations to bring the Lawn back to the original design – of course – pending board of visitors approval.


Jefferson created the Academical Village to include student rooms between faculty housing. In the lower level of the faculty housing was the classroom, the upper level the living quarters. Each Pavilion (faculty house / classroom) has a distinct architectural manifestation as Jefferson believed that all students should understand great architecture.


Professor Lay had lots of stories about materials used, architectural precedents, and life on the Lawn. His stories about duels, shootings, beatings, and parties on the lawn are beyond entertaining. Life on the lawn today moves at a much simpler pace.


We also got the rare treat of visiting the balcony of the Colonnade Club. This second level space on the lawn is considered to be private for the faculty.


What appears to be perfect symmetry along the lawn, is actually perfect asymmetry with no two things exactly matching. The column spacing changes, bricks change, pavilions are all different, capitals all different, and even space between pavilions change along the lawn. Jefferson did this to take an irregular terrain to make it look regular and very formal. He wanted to expose those in Virginia to high design and to do this, needed to use some illusion to achieve the right formality.


Inside the Colonnade Club we were given a glimpse of what is original and what was added as times changed.


Range rooms on the outside of the Academical Village were also used to house students.  Here we visited Edgar Allen Poe’s Room.


In front of the library there is a display of the Berlin Wall. Two sides of the same wall show the stark contrast that existed in the two Berlins in this display.

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We even had a chance to meet a celebrity while waiting on our bus. What a wonderful day of architectural delights.



1. Jefferson’s Academical Village #105architecturalinspiration

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Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village is the heart of the University of Virginia located in Charlottesville, Virginia. The structures comprising the space include the Rotunda, ten Pavilions, student rooms, Lawn, range rooms, and gardens some with Serpentine Walls (used as a frugal measure that creates architectural splendor). Jefferson conceived the college experience as a place for shared learning that infused daily life with study (blending public and private / professor and student spaces). The architecture of the space tells this story even today almost 200 years later.

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The head of the Lawn on the north end stands the Rotunda. In Jefferson’s design this was the main library and a sharp contrast to having the chapel be the center of the college experience as was common in the day. The shape and form of the Rotunda are inspired by Rome’s Pantheon symbolizing the enlightenment of the human mind and further telling his story through built form.

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Thomas Jefferson designed the Academical Village to be a place of inspiration. The structures are built to impress visitors while maintaining a simple elegance that is inviting and welcoming. There is a blend of formality and domestication from the overlapping public and private spaces along the edges all framing the large public square, The Lawn, in the center. At first glance the red bricks and white columns seem uniform creating a regular pattern from end to end. However, taking a moment to experience the space you quickly see many irregularities even in the most common of elements. These gestures are just another way that Jefferson showed that with time and study amazing new discoveries can be made in life. His original vision was to leave the end of the village open as a gesture to emphasize that your learning experience never ends, not even with graduation from the University. Jefferson’s simple yet complex design moves, his planning for the future generations to experience the space, and the story he tells through this built form make this one of my favorite architectural works that inspire.


#105architecturalinspirations is a collection of architectural details, buildings, and spaces that inspire me. I am taking on the challenge of finding two projects to spotlight each week in 2015. Hopefully I will be able to keep up and this process of discovery will push me to create better design solutions for my clients as I research and learn more about those projects I enjoy most. I challenge you to add your comments below about this project and to post your own inspirations for all to enjoy.