Open Letter
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School of Architecture students and
faculty discussing the Open Letter

Additional commentary will be posted as it comes in - from students, faculty, alumni, and other interested individuals. To submit commentary, please contact us.

FRIDAY SEPT 29, 2006

Via email

I would strongly encourage The University to look at the innovative, very green architectural plans of a small 800 student college in Elgin, Illinois, Judson Colleg. They are using a British firm, Alan Short and Associates, which specializes in green technology, after sponsoring a competition for the contract in the design of their new Fine Arts, Architecture, and Library Building. Their new building will use no air conditioning or heating for 7 or more months out of the year because of the way the building has been constructed. For more information please check out the following addresses:, and One of their architecture professors is a UVa graduate.

I can understand the dilemma in considering new building projects at UVa. Do you design new buildings that fit in with a facade providing visual unity with the rest of campus? Or allow every building to be innovative and distinct providing a hodge podge visual effect overall. Some cite MIT as being in the latter category. I'd like to think it would be possible to go the route of the John Paul Jones arena where there is a marriage of concepts: state-of-the-art interior, with a graceful nod to the exterior designs favored in the early 19th century.

Living in northern Virginia, I feel the same way about house offerings. Center hall colonial homes are epidemic. Having moved here from California, I'd like to see much greater variety in design, and dramatically improved construction techniques. The word on the street is that these wouldn't sell in this area. My response? How will they know unless they at least try to do something unique and different?

It comes down to status quo vs. innovation. I believe you are in the right of it by saying which camp Mr. Jefferson would have been in. No question, it would be on the side of new and improved innovation. He was the forerunner of Walt Disney. It is rather amazing to consider the number of innovative concepts that are now standard practice.  

I'd like to think UVa could be known for how much energy is saved in new building designs. That we show respect for the resources on this planet by the quality and longevity of materials used. That buildings are designed with the health of their occupants in mind because they include fresh air and available light in every room. Social connections are fostered by providing common areas both outdoor and indoor inspiring collegiality and collaboration. Artistic beauty is represented within our newest hallowed halls.

Clearly it poses a challenge for every designated planner to have the same vision for future buildings. However, when the intended users of buildings are not even consulted during building planning that is a serious oversight. How can an architect alone know how to plan the new kitchen at the Observatory Hill Dining Hall, and the chef never even be consulted, as an example? That makes no sense to me! Why should the inhabitants then be taxed with all the patch up work when the building doesn't work for its intended users? Doesn't it make much better sense to get their input before the building is designed?

A major military hospital is being closed down because its design did not provide enough space for incorporating new technology. The current Walter Reed Army Medical Center opened its doors in mid-1978. Millions of dollars went into making it an incredibly innovative design. From having a maintenance floor between each floor, and fire extinguisher foam varnish on all wood paneling inside, to a sole source company providing meal trays which kept cold food cold, and hot foods hot (the company later went bankrupt and no further replacement equipment could support this technology). The problem now is that there is no place to add major new technology like CT Scanners, and MRI machines to name a couple. They were not invented in 1978, so who knew to plan for them when the hospital was being built?

It would seem then, that a very far-seeing vision would also be important to the university. Take on the Asian concept of planning for 50 years into the future as new buildings are considered. Will new architectural tools yet to be invented require additional space 20 years from now? Could we then plan to have extra room to accomodate them? Will there be additional specialty degrees added in the future? Can the space be planned now for when they will be added at a future date?

Finally, while the Rotunda represents all that evokes Thomas Jefferson's original concepts, I'd like to ask a very telling question. When you think of the country of Australia, what building comes immediately to mind? Don't you immediately think about the Opera House in Sydney Harbor? I know I do. That soaring, modern design reaches out to capture the imagination, doesn't it? I'm looking forward to seeing our up and coming university planners capture our imaginations in the same way. Shall we call it the UVa Renaissance? A university built and designed by the original Renaissance man deserves no less.

-Diane Rybinski


AFTERMATH Graduate Symposium
I'd like to invite any and all parties interested in this dialogue to Professor Daniel Bluestone's lecture on the the historical
contexts of Jeffersonian classicism thatis being delivered as part of the AFTEMATH Conference on Friday Sept.22 at 5pm in Campbell 158.

Bluestone, whose talk is entitled "Great Calamity, Grievous Disaster," and the "Classical Persistence of Jeffersonian Design at UVA," will explore the relationship between the 1895 fire that destroyed the Rotunda and the recent calls for reviving Jeffersonian classical design for new buildings at the University. It will further explore this issue as part of a broader reflection on historicism and contextual issues related to the commissioning off architecture at the University.

-Jennifer Reut


Architectural pablum on South Lawn
Cavalier Daily

I read with interest and amusement your reporting on the South Lawn this summer ("South Lawn Project draws national criticism," Aug. 3). If we are to believe the official reports, everything is fine with architecture at the University as evidenced by the successful compromises the architects have made in realizing a somewhat classical vision for architecture at Mr. Jefferson's university in the 21 century. What a joke.

This is pure architectural pablum. The South Lawn project is the architectural equivalent of reading a Cliff Notes version of a Shakespearean play instead of Shakespeare himself.

Once again, the University has taken a good architectural firm and has succeeded in getting the firm to produce a lowest common denominator, just good enough to please university administrators and even more importantly to entice donors who are looking for that comfortable feeling evoked by nostalgia (no matter how shallow) and bad enough to be a laughingstock within the serious classical architecture community. As Adam Goodheart has noted, it is essentially a series of modern boxes wrapped in a Courtyard by Marriott skin, hoping beyond all else to look like it fits in. This is an insult to Jefferson's legacy as a classicist, and I am surprised that more of my fellow proponents of classicism are not speaking up with the same vitriol that they marshaled against the University architecture faculty last year.

The few modern touches (like glass) are included to placate some, and a monstrous aircraft carrier covering of Jefferson Park Avenue is introduced to make sure that everyone in Charlottesville knows who's boss. At least some much-needed square footage is provided to remedy the decades long negligence of the physical plant in Arts & Sciences -- all the more appalling given its central strength behind the University's academic reputation.

David Neuman should be commended for ushering this process forward with a unanimous vote of support from the Board of Visitors. Now, Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, Ed Ayers can complete the fund-raising, with full confidence that donors can feel good about continuing the extraordinary architectural legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

What a sad and pathetic joke.

Ben Latrobe
CLAS 1986


Open Letter to LEED
May 2, 2006

Second Letter to LEED


Via email

Do we fence & freeze the few dreams that get built to the extent that the original vision is forever lost in fast-rewind adjacencies? Or diversify in progressive juxtapositions perpetually upgrading the vision? Easy questions; hard answers. But like electrons more beneficently behaving as waves when we're not looking, too much posturing of Jeffersonian architectural ideals destroys the ideologies' more important mission.  Mr. Jefferson's own suggestion that "the earth belongs always to the living generation" (while writing James Madison from Paris) should be our incantation. Still hot from our country's big-bang Independence, the brilliance of his university symbolized unlimited possibilities. And since (as he also suggests to Madison) "no society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law", so too should architecture -- especially his -- inspirationally prescribe reason to permeate all ages past, present, and forthcoming rather than defy time altogether which only God can do. The blind faith of preservation can't even come close.
–Chris Morris
5 Union Square West - 8thFlr.
NYC 10003
B.Arch. 1975 from UVA.

TUESDAY MAY 23, 2006

Via email

Cherish you uniformity. UT in Knoxville is a mess of buildings that do not match or even seem to belong in the same world. Next to our original buildings on our sacred HILL is what we refer to as a giant spam can. All of west campus is 1960s dorms that, from the nearby interstate, appear to be projects or government housing. one of out most beloved buildings was falling apart and so thye demolished it. very little of our architecural history is left. At UT we are taught the Jefferson presented his plan to us and that our board turned it down. we were then stuck with what we now have. for a university that has been around since 1796, only one of our buildings is was built before 1900. and that was in 1891. If you want to see what your campus could turn into, come to knoxville and poke around. i hope you appreciate what you have, because here, we have nothing to cherish (except our football stadium, and for different reasons).

Daniel, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

FRIDAY MAY 19, 2006

Stanley Ragle letter to Rector Thomas Farrell
April 28, 2006

Rector Thomas Farrell letter to Stanley Ragle
May 2, 2006


Stanley Ragle letter to Governor Kaine
March 30, 2006

Stanley Ragle letter to Adam Goodheart of the New York Times
March 30, 2006

Stanley Ragle letter to Rector Thomas Farrell
January 30, 2006


The Hook: Issue 0516
ON ARCHITECTURE- Am not! Are so!: Architects scrap over South Lawn project

By Dave McNair

In 2001, when UVA hired the Polshek Partnership to design the new South Lawn project, it appeared the powers that be had something really exciting and innovative in mind. After all, the firm was well known for its architecture, including the space-age Clinton Library in Little Rock and the faÁade of the Brooklyn Museum, a stunningly modernist design renovation that nonetheless blends seamlessly with its historic core...Read entire article>


South Lawn

South Lawn PDF Presentation

South Lawn Design Principles

One of several discarded schemes from the office of James Stewart Polshek before they were released from the South Lawn commission.


Dave McNair
The Hook

Hey, what do you guys think of the new south lawns designs? The Hook wants to know!

Dave McNair

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