The Beginnings of a University
Just as Jefferson believed that public education was essential to the success of an American democracy, so too did he advocate for inspired public architecture. He deplored Virginia's lack of high-quality public buildings in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1787), calling his alma mater, the College of William and Mary, a "rude, misshapen pile" that could be confused for a brick kiln. In 1786, Jefferson completed his design for the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond—his first attempt to realize the high standards for public architecture he wished for the new republic. Based on an ancient Roman temple he had studied in France, the building exemplifies Jefferson's reverence for classicism and his burgeoning architectural talent.
Jefferson first combined his passions for education and architecture in 1804, when Virginia legislators approached him for advice on realizing a public university. In his design concept he described a layout that would be quite unlike that of William and Mary, which then consisted mainly of the structure currently known as the Wren Building. Fire and disease posed significant threats to a university housed in a single edifice. To minimize such risks, Jefferson proposed a so-called village consisting of individual buildings that served both as classrooms and faculty housing, connected by a continuous covered walkway that opened onto student rooms. He further clarified this idea in 1810, when he specified that each professor's house should have private chambers on the second floor and public classrooms on the first and that the complex should be arranged "around an open square of grass and trees." He dubbed his concept an "Academical Village."
Planning and Construction
Construction on the Academical Village began in 1817 with Pavilion VII and lasted beyond the arrival of the first students on March 7, 1825, and Jefferson's death on July 4, 1826. The original complex's last building, the Rotunda, was finally finished the following September. Although he watched the project closely until his death, the aging Jefferson served as the official supervisor of construction only until March 3, 1819, when he handed over the duty to the university's proctor, Arthur S. Brockenbrough. Over the decade of construction, the institution enlisted a number of skilled builders who had worked on Monticello, including the joiners James Dinsmore and John Neilson. The English, Irish, Italian, and American-born builders worked with freed and enslaved African Americans (most owned or rented by builders), including in the production of the tremendous number of bricks used to construct the massive project.
The Academical Village in the Nineteenth Century
Archaeological and documentary research has proven that the Maverick Plan was an ideal drawing rather than a record of the complex as built. As construction continued and the university opened to students and faculty, changes were made to Jefferson's original plan. In February 1825, at the request of anatomy and medical professor Dr. Robley Dunglison, Jefferson designed a university building not included in his initial plan: the Anatomical Theater, a square structure with a large operating theater just opposite Hotel A on the West Range. The building's placement suggests that Jefferson foresaw a fifth row of buildings parallel to the Lawn and West Range. (The theater was demolished in 1939 after Alderman Library was completed.)
Jefferson's Academical Village remained largely intact, even as the university's population expanded and contracted, disease and the American Civil War (1861–1865) introduced new challenges, and new teaching methods developed over the course of the nineteenth century. Buildings were amended and repurposed, but the concept remained. The nineteenth-century university, therefore, largely grew up around the Academical Village.
The most significant antebellum addition made to the Academical Village was the Annex, a large "tail" added to the north side of the Rotunda between 1851 and 1853. The Annex contained a 1,200-seat auditorium intended to replace the Rotunda's dome room for large gatherings. Considered by Jefferson to be the back of the building, the Rotunda's north elevation did not originally feature any of the distinguished classical details of the Lawn facade. Robert Mills, then one of the premier neoclassical architects in the United States, designed the massive addition largely mimicking the style of the original Jefferson buildings.
Since McKim, Mead, and White's additions, however, there has been little discussion about whether to add to the Academical Village. For example, the 110,000-square-foot South Lawn project—designed by Moore, Ruble, Yudell Architects & Planners and constructed in the first decade of the twenty-first century—extends the Lawn southward to a series of buildings that echoes Jefferson's Lawn concept, but cannot be seen from the Lawn itself. As the new home of the College of Arts and Sciences, the South Lawn is a concerted attempt to re-center university life at the initial nineteenth-century site without disrupting its composition.
The palette of Jefferson's design, meanwhile, has and continues to dominate construction elsewhere on the sprawling suburban campus. Even buildings that eschew the blatantly classical features of Greece and Rome usually boast red brick, light-colored trim, and the organizational tenets of Jefferson's initial concept.
1804 - A group of Virginia legislators approach Thomas Jefferson regarding the creation of a public university.
January 5, 1805 - In a letter to General Assembly member Littleton Waller Tazewell, Thomas Jefferson responds to Tazewell's request for advice about founding a public university.
May 6, 1810 - In a letter to the Trustees for the Lottery of East Tennessee College, Thomas Jefferson shares his vision of his ideal public university, describing it as an "Academical Village."
1814 - Thomas Jefferson makes his first drawings for a college. His design concept includes nine pavilions, each of which contains a professor's lodging and teaching quarters, connected by colonnades of single-celled student rooms.
March 1814 - Thomas Jefferson joins the governing board of Albemarle Academy, an institution that exists only on paper, but will later evolve into Central College, and then the University of Virginia.
April 8, 1817 - The site for Central College (later chartered as the University of Virginia) is selected just west of Charlottesville.
May 5, 1817 - Thomas Jefferson submits his plans for Central College (later chartered as the University of Virginia) to its board of visitors.
October 6, 1817 - The cornerstone is laid for Pavilion VII, the first building of what will become the University of Virginia.
January 25, 1819 - The General Assembly charters Central College as a public state university; the institution is now to be known as the University of Virginia.
March 3, 1819 - An aging Thomas Jefferson resigns his position as official supervisor of construction of the University of Virginia, handing over the duty to the university's proctor, Arthur S. Brockenbrough.
1822 - The University of Virginia prints the first published drawing of Thomas Jefferson's designs for the school. The drawing is called the Maverick Plan, for its engraver, Peter Maverick.
January 1825 - At the request of Dr. Robley Dunglison, the University of Virginia's anatomy and medical professor, Thomas Jefferson designs the Anatomical Theater, a building not included in his original plan for the Academical Village. (The building is demolished in 1939.)
March 7, 1825 - The first class of forty students, guided by nine professors, matriculates at the University of Virginia.
September 1826 - Construction of the Rotunda, the final structure in Thomas Jefferson's design for the University of Virginia, is completed.
1851–1853 - The Annex, a structure designed by Robert Mills that contains a 1,200-seat auditorium, is added to the University of Virginia's Rotunda.
October 27, 1895 - A fire breaks out in the Annex of the University of Virginia's Rotunda. The conflagration destroys the Rotunda building and interior, but spares the rest of the Academical Village.
1896 - The University of Virginia board of visitors hires the New York City architecture firm McKim, Mead, and White to rebuild the Rotunda (without the Annex), redirect the university's entrance to the city of Charlottesville, and construct new buildings to enclose the south end of the Lawn.
April 13, 1976 - The Rotunda of the University of Virginia reopens on the completion of a restoration of the interior led by Frederick D. Nichols.
1987 - The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adds Monticello and the University of Virginia to its World Heritage List, a register of buildings and sites deemed to have outstanding universal value.
2006–2010 - The South Lawn project, a series of buildings that extends the University of Virginia Lawn southward, is completed. Construction on the project, which was designed by the California architecture firm Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners, began in 2006.
2008–2009 - Preservation architects at the University of Virginia restore Pavilion X to its original appearance.
- "The University of Virginia's Gardens and Yards in the Nineteenth Century."
- "Documentary History of the Construction of the Buildings at the University of Virginia, 1817–1828."
- Monticello: The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Retirement Series.
- "From Village to Grounds: Architecture after Jefferson at the University of Virginia."
- "The Architecture of Thomas Jefferson."
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Brandt, L. M. The Architecture of the University of Virginia. (2016, April 21). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/University_of_Virginia_The_Architecture_of_the.
- MLA Citation:
Brandt, Lydia Mattice. "The Architecture of the University of Virginia." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 21 Apr. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: June 25, 2013 | Last modified: April 21, 2016