Evaluating the past helps plan a better future
|Consultant Mark Wenger and four student interns discuss conducting a survey that will aid in creating the Historic Preservation Master Plan for the University.
By Jane Ford
Architectural consultant Mark Wenger and four interns working in the Office of the Architect stood in front of Brooks Hall gazing up at a window.
“That’s a stilted arch, and I think that’s original,” Wenger pointed out to the interns. “If you look at the brickwork around it, it does not look like it has been disturbed.”
The group was noting defining features and current conditions of the Victorian era building, both inside and out, as part of a comprehensive study of approximately 150 historic buildings and landscapes belonging to the University.
The survey, funded by a Getty Foundation grant, will result in the creation of a Historic Preservation Master Plan for the University that includes buildings and landscapes that date before 1965, excluding those on the Lawn.
“The Getty Foundation grant is seen as a national model,” said Mary Hughes, University landscape architect and the person spearheading the project until a senior historic preservation planner is hired. “It’s a wholesale assessment instead of a case-by-case study.”
Armed with the study results, the University will have a valuable tool to make decisions about future restoration, maintenance and renovation of each historic property. The group’s evaluation yielded a prioritized list categorizing each building and landscape as essential, important, contributing or not contributing to the history and present character of the University.
Recently, plans involving two historic structures reinforced the value of the study. During planning for the McIntire School of Commerce’s new home, it was discovered that Varsity Hall, a building currently on the site and thought to have no real architectural value, has significance.
“Varsity Hall is an early, if not the earliest, example of a purpose-built college medical building in the country,” Hughes said. “It has very innovative heating and ventilating systems in addition to water closets and sleeping porches.”
When consultants carried out an assessment of Fayerweather Hall this spring, they discovered that wooden windows, scheduled to be replaced, were not original to the 1893 construction. They dated from early 20th-century renovations and were deemed part of the historical evolution of the building from a gym to the home of what was then the McIntire School of Fine Arts, which included the architecture program. Based on the findings, renovation plans to discard the wooden windows were scrapped; instead, they are being repaired.
The consultants, Mark Wenger and Jeff Baker of Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects, and historical landscape architect Tom Elmore, of Elmore Design Collaborative are leaders in their fields, Hughes said.
Seven interns are working with the consultants, visiting each site armed with dossiers, compiled earlier this summer and containing historical photos, architectural drawings and other pertinent data from various archives around Grounds.
“The dossiers are snap shot graphic histories of the sites,” Elmore said. “The maps and photos become very helpful as we walk around.”
Elmore takes digital photos at every opportunity, chronicling the big picture as well as the fine details that he will include in his report.
“The report and materials will be helpful for someone looking back 50 years from now,” Elmore said.
The fieldwork is invaluable for the interns.
“I have an eye for detail I did not have before, and I think that’s a real asset,” said intern Cora Palmer, a graduate architectural history student.
“For me, it was on-the-spot learning about different [building] materials and to some degree construction,” said intern Margaret Grubiak, a graduate architectural history student.
Intern Neil Budzinski, a graduate landscape architecture student, said he appreciates the methodical landscape documentation and history they are doing.
The consultants are also developing an overall narrative of the University’s growth and development, identifying themes in U.Va.’s history. They are considering such factors as historic periods, the rise of new areas of study in higher education, the influence of educational philanthropy, and the internal and external influences that have played major roles in the physical and cultural development of the University.
“Virtually every architectural trend that hit the nation hit Charlottesville,” Hughes said. “The Historic Preservation Master Plan will allow us to slate for preservation some vestige of each era so that there is a full history of the University.”
The study also may refocus the Jeffersonian argument about the style of new buildings, she said. “Buildings on Grounds that are considered ‘Jeffersonian’ today were actually created as contemporary interpretations of classical design.”
As Wenger and the four interns sat on the steps of Brooks Hall to wrap up their evaluation, they talked about the role of philanthropy in the development of the University after the Civil War. The building is sited toward town, a symbol of the changing orientation of the University. They talked about the growing interest in natural history and evolution at the time. They also noted that the building is an example of high Victorian style, designed by John Rochester Thomas, a prominent Rochester, N.Y., architect, and the exterior is substantially intact, although the interior is compromised by renovation over the years. In this case their report will recommend that Brooks Hall be considered ‘essential’ to the history and present character of U.Va.
“There’s nothing like it here at the University,” Wenger said. “If we consider Jefferson’s notion that buildings are examples of history of architecture and if we have a 3-D textbook of the history of architecture here at the University, this is a very important building.”