The Architecture of The University of Virginia

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The University of Virginia is an architectural masterpiece with the architect behind it all, Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson is known for a lot of things, such as, being the president of the United States, being the author of the Declaration of Independence, and Govender of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson has made some amazing accomplishments in his lifetime and I am immensely happy that we are here to experience what he has done and accomplished. Thomas Jefferson Was born in 1743 in Shadwell, Virginia. He grew up on a plantation there and then graduated from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He then went on to study law and became a respected lawyer in Virginia in 1767. From then on, he began working his way up through politics and then became President of the United States in in 1801. Thomas Jefferson was elected to the charter for central college in Albemarle county Virginia. With being elected to this position Thomas Jefferson begins his plans for the “Academic Village” or the lawn at the University of Virginia. In 1778 Jefferson sent bills to the Virginia General assembly about his idea for establishing the university. In the next coming years his presidency and other more pressing matters would take his attention away from the university but in the early 1800’s he would continue with his plan to establish the university. When Jefferson said this in a letter, “We wish to establish in the upper & healthier country, & more centrally for the state an University on a plan so broad & liberal & modern, as to be worth patronizing with the public support, and be a temptation to the youth of other states to come, and drink of the cup of knowledge & fraternize with us.” (Brawne, 1994) People knew Jefferson was going to establish the first state university in Virginia. Although Jefferson did not study architecture at any university, he became a professional architect through his experience and designing his own projects and working on other public buildings and homes. He would often turn to other architects for advice and suggestions while designing. Many consider him the first great native-born architect of the United States.

I personally have been to a few of Thomas Jefferson’s greatest architectural achievements. I toured both Monticello and the University of Virginia. Both in my opinion are architectural masterpieces and it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to go and visit. The University of Virginia was exceptional when I went to visit it was extremely interesting the whole time, I went to tour the university. I have a few friends who go to school at UVA and they absolutely love it and I have not heard a single bad thing about the school. When I toured the school, we spent a majority of the time in “academic village” because that’s where all the history is behind the school. In my opinion it was the most interesting school tour I’ve been on. The common idea in the time period is to build one big expensive building to house the professors and have classes. Thomas Jefferson had the opposite idea, he wanted small barracks for the students and professors that go around the perimeter of the “Academic Village” or the lawn. With those barracks is a covered walkway to give the students and faculty a dry pathway to get where they need to go. With this idea stirring around in Jefferson’s head according to Michael Brawne in, University of Virginia The Lawn, Jefferson said, “The whole of these arranged around an open square of grass and trees, would make it, what it should be in fact, an academical village.” He wanted those who lived there and went to school there to have a thriving community and have the school act like its own little village within the campus. Jefferson wanted the teacher as an individual among the students making it a social and an educational community within the “village”

The building that sits at the north side of the lawn is the Rotunda. Jefferson got his inspiration from this building from the Pantheon. When you look at the building head on the resemblance in uncanny. The outside entrance to the building is an elevated rectangle with steps leading up to it. Jefferson then put 12 Corinthian columns along the perimeter. Then when you walk in the Rotunda the first floor has three oval shaped rooms and along the wall where the entrance is there is a double staircase that comes down each side. The Rotunda is still used today as classrooms, meeting halls and study rooms, it also has a little museum in there full of artifacts. The dome of the Rotunda was to be a library but is now can be reserved for dinners and lectures. The inner diameter of the dome is about 73 feet and the outside diameter is 77 feet. These are the same proportions as the Pantheon but scaled down about half so that it does not overwhelm the lawn according to Michael Brawne in University of Virginia The Lawn in 1994.

“The design of the University of Virginia will live on forever. It was the first instance in America of visionary architecture.” This is what Desmond Guinness and Julius Sadler Jr. said about Jefferson’s work on the university in their book Mr. Jefferson Architect, 1973. The authors then go on to talk about the pavilions located on the lawn. The pavilions are connected to the barracks but are much larger. There are ten pavilions that go around the lawn, five on each side. These are used to house the head of each school on the second floor. And on the first floor is a classroom where the professor would give their lectures for the day. Faculty still use these pavilions today as their homes and as their classrooms. Jefferson wanted each pavilion different because each college is different, and they call for different things. He did this by his use of columns, arches, windows, overhangs and balconies. According to Guinness and Sadler in Mr. Jefferson Architect, 1973, for pavilion I Jefferson got his inspiration from the Baths of

Diocletian. The design of the building looks like it was directly taken from the building in Rome. He has the four large Doric Columns in the front holding up the triangle roof. Around the perimeter of the base of the roof is the same face carved into the building multiple times going around the whole building. In the center of the triangle is a halfmoon window. Within the window are two arches and several lines arranged in a way to look like the sun is rising. In the middle of the columns is a balcony with a door in the middle for the resident to use. This balcony is used as a covered walkway for students and faculty to walk under when traveling around the lawn. There is also a brick chimney in the middle of the pavilion that breaks through the roof.

The drawings for the five east lawn pavilions were done in 1819 and Jefferson drew them in no more than fifteen days, when he did that, he was seventy-six years old. Pavilion II is the first one in line on the east side of the lawn. With this pavilion Jefferson got his inspiration from the temple of Portunus in Rome, Italy. The temple in Rome has columns going all around it, unfortunately Jefferson could not do that because on both sides of the pavilion its connected to other barracks. Instead Jefferson just used the four ionic columns in the front of the building. This pavilion has the same triangle roof as pavilion I with a similar halfmoon window and a similar design in the window. In the middle of the columns there is a see-through gated balcony with a door for the resident who stays there. This pavilion has five windows, two on the first floor, two on the second floor and then the half moon in the center of the triangle on top. It also has brick chimney that breaks through the roof as well.

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Pavilion III Jefferson’s inspiration came from the Andrea Palladio. Jefferson put four large Corinthian columns in the front of the pavilion with a see-through gated balcony in the middle that is accessible by a window in the middle of the balcony. In Jefferson’s original drawings there were to be two doors on the first floor one in the middle and one on the right side on the front wall of the building, but the university has since changed it to a window. There are 11 windows on this pavilion. Four of which are located on the first floor of the front wall. There are two on each side of the wall with the door splitting them in the middle. These windows are the same size as the door. On the second floor there are windows in line with the ones on the first floor with one in the middle in line with the doorway that is also used as an entrance to the balcony. The last window is located on the triangle roof that this pavilion has. This window is the same as the one on pavilion one, it’s a halfmoon window with arches and a series of lines that look like the sun is rising. And then a large brick chimney is breaks through center of the roof that is for the resident’s use.

Pavilion IV is closely related to pavilion II in the way it is laid out but when you get into the detail of the building its extremely different. Jefferson kept four columns in the front of the building but the columns in pavilion IV are Doric and the columns on pavilion II are Ionic. There is a see-through gated balcony in the middle of the columns with a door similar to that of pavilion II. There are five windows on this pavilion, two on the first floor, two on the second floor, and one in the center of the triangle roof. The windows on the bottom floor are the same size as the door and they are located in the middle of the columns so that you can see through them and out into the lawn. The windows on the second floor are in line with the ones on the first but are a little bit smaller in height. The last window is another halfmoon window located in the middle of the triangle roof. One difference that this pavilion has to that of II is that at the base of the roof he has a design that goes around the perimeter. The design looks like roman numerals, III, with white spaces in between each design.

Jefferson kept his design for pavilion V pretty simple but still had enough to fit in very well with the rest of the pavilions. He got his inspiration for this pavilion from the Doric of Albano. He loaded the front of the building with six ionic columns. He then put a balcony in the middle of those columns. There are nine windows total on the pavilion, four spread out evenly along the bottom level that are roughly the same size as the door. Then five windows on the second level, four in line with the bottom four and then the fifth in the middle in line with the door for access to the balcony by the resident. This is only one of three pavilions that do not have a triangle roof and do not have a halfmoon window. Pavilion V and also pavilion III were the second and third ones to be constructed. Jefferson constructed each pavilion individually as construction for the lawn was underway as more money got approved with the project.

Pavilion VI is one of four pavilions that does not have columns that go through the second level and to the roof. The columns on this pavilion stop at the top of the first level and they are the support for the balcony. This pavilion is modeled after pavilion III, but the only differences are the height of the columns and the height of the windows. Pavilion VI has two windows on each level with a door on each side for easy access either outside to the lawn or to the balcony. Pavilion is the most unique one of them all in my opinion. The pavilion is laid out with columns, arches, and an abundance of windows. Jefferson got his inspiration for this pavilion from an illustration in Chambery. The first floor at the edge of the balcony closest to the lawn is five arches that are supporting the balcony above. The columns then meet the arches at the balcony and then go to support the triangle roof. There are six Doric columns that line the edge of the balcony. There are three doors on this pavilion, one in the center of the first floor for easy access to the covered walkway and lawn, then one to the right of the door but these two are separated by a window. The last door is in the middle of the balcony for easy access outside. There are six windows on this pavilion. Three are along the first floor, two on the left and one separating the two doors. There is on each side of the door on the second floor and then single halfmoon window in the middle of the triangle roof. This pavilion also has a brick chimney for the resident to enjoy that comes through the roof. It is also said in Thomas Jefferson Architect written by Frederick Doveton Nichols, 1968, that President Monroe laid the foundation stone on pavilion VII on October 6, 1817.

An interesting thing about pavilion VIII is only one of three that have an outdoor balcony. This pavilion is modeled after pavilion VI the only differences are the number of windows and pavilion VIII do not have a triangle roof. and Jefferson got his inspiration from the Baths of Diocletian. There are six Corinthian columns that go across the front of the pavilion but only go to the top of the first floor, the columns are used to support the balcony from below. There are six windows on the face of this pavilion, four on the first floor with the door splitting them in half. There are also two on the second floor in line with the outer two windows on the first floor closest to the edges of the building. There are two doors on this pavilion one in the middle of the fist floor and one in the middle of the second floor for easy access for the resident to do as they please.

Pavilion IX is one of the most interesting there is on the lawn, there is no other one like it. Jefferson’s inspiration for this pavilion derived from the Temple of Fortuna Virilis. There are eight ionic columns along the front edge of the pavilion that only reach the top of the first floor and support the outdoor balcony from the bottom. There are only four windows on the face of the pavilion, two on the bottom and two on the top. There is only one door in the center of the first floor. Around the door on the first floor is huge arch that reaches to the middle of the second floor. When this pavilion’s construction was finished in 1821 it was admired very much by French architect Ledoux, who Jefferson extremely admired according to Amy Pastan in her book Thomas Jefferson: Guinness of liberty, 2000.

Pavilion X is the last and the most elaborate of the Pavilions. According to Nichols and Griswold in Thomas Jefferson, Landscape Architect,1978, Jefferson’s inspiration came from the Temple of Nerva. Jefferson put four Doric columns in the center part of the face of the building. This is only one of two pavilions that have the face of the pavilion reach out further than the columns, pavilion III is the same way. These Doric columns reach the bottom of the triangle roof and support it. there is a balcony in the middle of the columns that is covered by the roof. There are five windows on this pavilion, two on the first floor and tow on the second. Each of the windows are seen through the gaps of the columns. The last window is in the middle of the triangle roof, it is a halfmoon window like the one on pavilion I. There are also two doors one in the middle of the firs floor and one on the second floor to let the resident do as they please.

It is already known that Mr. Jefferson was an amazing architect and politician. As you can see from the above examples Jefferson liked to use building from around the world for inspiration for his own and incorporate them in his own original ideas. The elegance of the architecture of the University of Virginia is hard to recreate today led alone back in his time. It is truly amazing that Jefferson did what he did and that we are around to bask in its glory. His main objective for the university was to make a “village” within the campus, and he did just that. His idea started with this quote “The whole of these arranged around an open square of grass and trees, would make it, what it should be in fact, an academical village.” his vision then became a reality. I am amazed by the work that Mr. Jefferson did for this country and I appreciate all he did he is truly a role model for all up and coming architects and those practicing now.

References

  1. Brawne, M. (1994). University of Virginia, the Lawn: Thomas Jefferson. London: Phaidon.
  2. Guinness, D., & Sadler, J. T. (1974). Mr. Jefferson architect. New York: The Viking Press.
  3. Jefferson, T., Kimball, S. F., & Nichols, F. D. (1968). Thomas Jefferson: Architect. New York: Da Capo Press.
  4. Nichols, F. D., & Griswold, R. E. (1974). Thomas Jefferson, Landscape Architect. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
  5. Wills, G., & Ellis, J. J. (2000). Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty. New York: Viking Studio.
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