Gilles Deleuze argued that philosophy should be approached as a cross between a detective novel and science fiction: confronted with evidence of the crime (the act or situation), philosophy intervenes to resolve the “drama,” in the process sometimes undertaking “the most insane creation of concepts ever seen or heard.”1 The same could be said about architecture. What appears – the material artifact – is the residue of a decision which in turn expresses values to be deduced.

But while architecture can be considered an index for a society’s values, in its communication it is both less and more than a language. Less, because its symbols are less exact; more, because its physical nature imparts a bodily experience in surplus of its semantic intent. Thus the “retrieval” of meaning can be as much creation as archaeology, and the conceptual currency of a work at any given time is usually a better gauge for that society’s values than of any intrinsic “worth.” Nevertheless, certain works that have persisted over time refuse to yield to a unilateral interpretation of what can be perceived from it. The Academical Village falls into this category, perhaps as much by measure of our evolving judgment upon Jefferson as an individual as by shifts in architectural discourse.

What has been our contention is that the capacity of architecture to embody ideological structures allows it to forge affinities across great distances of time and space – structures all the more powerful for being virtual, affinities all the more tenacious for being latent. Jefferson, whose own philosophy was grounded in the vigorous and ever-fluctuating dialogue between the classical and the modern, actively cultivated such associations both in the conduct of his life and in the didactic content of his architecture. The Academical Village, above and beyond its functioning as an educational institution, is a meditation, by a man in his waning years, on the society he helped to build. Jefferson correctly identified its greatest danger – and potentially greatest asset – as the problem of arriving at unity through difference. And so he set out to define the great theme of relation that has informed every element of his architectural grammar…


1. Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.  p.xx.