In describing his intentions for a university to be built in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson introduces a curious neologism: Academical Village. In doing so he explicitly rejects the prevailing models for collegiate architecture: freestanding monolithic buildings that house all functions, from classrooms to dormitories to dining halls. Instead, Jefferson seeks to disperse his university in different associated parts so that “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, instead of a large and common den of noise, of filth, and of fetid air.”1

This decision stems partly from his own educational experience at the College of William and Mary, and the antipathy he feels for it. At the time, the College is contained in one large building, flanked by the President’s house and a building for Native Americans. All the students study, eat, and sleep in the main building – precisely the kind of “den of noise and filth” that Jefferson loathes. Not only that, the students are generally unruly and dissolute; they certainly have no role models to learn from, since the Anglican clergy controlling the College are themselves lazy drunkards whose deeds include fathering illegitimate children and leading the students in riots.2

For Jefferson, no problem is thought in isolation from its milieu. The students’ ignorance and behavior; the religious stranglehold on free inquiry; the spatial conflation of daily activities; its effect on mental and physical health; the vices and temptations of city life; urbanism and its politics; and the physical image of those values as symbolized by architecture – the interrelatedness of these issues weave a skein for Jefferson to unravel. And as he is convinced that education is the ultimate guarantee of freedom, Jefferson in the twilight of his life executes a last heroic effort to continue that radical social experiment – the United States of America – that decades ago he had helped to found.3

< home | next >