debate creates lively workshop
As we add buildings to core areas of the University,
should they all be Jeffersonian? And just what does the term Jeffersonian
by Stephanie Gross
officials, architects and students participated in roundtable
discussions last Friday during the Arts Grounds workshop.
They talked about how new Jeffersonian buildings
should be designed.
By Bill Sublette
questions were at the heart of discussions that took place Friday
during the Arts Grounds Workshop. Held in the Rotunda and convened
by Samuel A. Pete Anderson III, architect for the
University, the morning-long session brought together prominent
architects and members of the Board
of Visitors, as well as deans, department heads, arts benefactors
and several students.
crux of their conversation was whether the buildings proposed
for the Carrs Hill arts district should incorporate the
classical vocabulary of Jeffersons architecture, such as
columns and pediments, or whether the complex should offer a fresh
interpretation of Jeffersonian principles through 21st-century
roster of speakers guaranteed a lively and substantive exchange.
Mark Robbins, former design director of the National Endowment
for the Arts and now a fellow at Harvards Radcliffe Institute
for Advanced Study, argued that new departures in design can add
vitality to historic precincts. As an example, he cited the Polshek
Partnerships design of the Rose Center for Earth and Space
at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. A largely
glass structure that glows as if the moon had been lodged
in Central Park West, the building engages in a productive
dialogue with its venerable parent, said Robbins.
of the architects responsible for the Rose Center was among the
programs participants. James S. Polshek, whose firm will
design the proposed South Lawn Project, presented numerous examples
of how elements Jefferson used effectively on the Lawn
from masonry and windows to porches and rooflines have
been handled over time by other talented architects, including
such modernists as Alvar Aalto, Aldo Rossi and Louis Kahn. Quoting
architectural historian Geoffrey Scott, Polshek said, the
issue is not modernism or anti-modernism but good architecture
vs. bad architecture. The question here is how do you define that.
perspective was offered by Philadelphia architect John Blatteau,
a leading proponent of the application of classicism in both new
architecture and restorations. Arguing that the dominant culture
of modernism often prevents contemporary classicists from
winning institutional design projects, he encouraged the University
to broaden its selection process to include architects working
in the classical vein. He said it is unreasonable to hire modernists
to design new University buildings and then expect them to be
reincarnated overnight into Jeffersonian classicists.
five simultaneous roundtable discussions, some participants called
for bold approaches to the Arts Grounds that would be as revolutionary
in our time as Jeffersons were in his. Others cautioned
against straying too far from tried and true Jeffersonian models.
Still others expressed the hope that the arts precinct would set
a new standard for integrating history into contemporary architecture.
and faculty emphasized the need for buildings that reflect and
serve their individual functions, whether for art, architecture,
music or drama. Architects pointed to problems with the Universitys
design review process, characterizing it as a multi-headed
hydra that requires meeting the often competing demands
of many masters.
G. Crutchfield Jr., a member of the Board of Visitors Buildings
and Grounds Committee, declared the workshop a success. He hopes
the discussion will lead to a formal set of design guidelines,
as well as recommendations that will enhance our processes
of selecting architects and facilitating their work.
workshop raised one point on which all there could agree. When
asked what they would like to be able to say about the Arts Grounds
10 years from now, three of the five groups gave essentially the
same answer: that its completed.