Preserving the Past Planning the Future
The U.Va. Difference
By Charlotte Crystal
Inside UVA: What was Thomas Jefferson’s vision for the University of Virginia?
Neuman: Thomas Jefferson’s concept for the University was as an integrated place of learning, with faculty dwelling next to students; with classrooms next to dining halls; informal places, such as the gardens; and formal places, such as the Lawn and the library. He brought his educational concepts into a discrete physical presence with the design of the Academical Village. The hallmark of Jefferson’s design was a sense of order, connection and interchange of site, landscape and buildings.
IUVA: What inspired him?
Neuman: Jefferson’s approach to design was influenced by the Enlightenment and its emphasis on self-improvement. Also, the order and the symbolism of classically inspired architecture integrated with careful site planning. His site planning involved how things were spatially organized and how they were integrated with the landscape. The Academical Village concept was oriented toward the mountains, which was symbolic of the future, as well as framing an inspiring view.
IUVA: Does the University of Virginia have a larger duty to safeguard its architectural legacy?
Neuman: Yes. As a [UNESCO] World Heritage site, we have a responsibility to the University’s students, faculty, alumni and the people of Virginia, as well as to visitors coming from around the world to see the Academical Village and the central Grounds. We need to approach the restoration and maintenance of our historic facilities carefully and to implement plans with skill and craftsmanship.
IUVA: As the University enters an intensive period of new construction, are efforts likewise being made to preserve historic buildings?
IUVA: Is it difficult to find funding to restore old buildings?
Neuman: Yes, it can be. That’s why we’re working with others to find individuals and foundations interested in getting involved with preservation of the University’s older buildings. Some individuals understand that buildings beyond those of Thomas Jefferson need restoring. The challenge is that it is often easier to raise money for new bricks-and-mortar than for the preservation of old buildings.
IUVA: What are the challenges of the Office of the Architect in preserving Jefferson’s vision in the face of U.Va.’s expansion?
Neuman: The architecture here is so often written about — the Palladian classicism of the Lawn, the Rotunda and the Academical Village — that other planning and landscape issues are often lost. There are also many historic buildings and cultural landscapes outside the Academical Village. We need to ask some questions: Have all of our buildings and other landscape elements survived the test of time and need to be restored? Or were they not such good ideas and need to be revisited? With a lot more buildings now than when Thomas Jefferson planned the original Academical Village, we want to preserve the spirit of connection that he achieved. There were faculty-to-student connections, student-to-student connections, faculty-and-student-to-facility connections. We need to understand the history to bring back the vitality and mitigate contemporary problems — such as the physical distance that separates the University’s various departments and automobile traffic on roads that cut through Grounds, and other intrusive issues that have come up since the University’s founding.
IUVA: What is the Office of the Architect doing to tie together the new construction with the University’s older buildings?
Neuman: In our new construction, we want to use the spirit and context of the central Grounds as design inspiration, as well as the U.Va. palette of materials. We’re trying to incorporate a common relationship among the buildings of the University — not simply creating a collection of buildings at the University. And part of our current planning is making better use of our geographic constraints. The Groundswalk, a system of pedestrian walkways that is planned around Grounds, is one idea that can help tie the extended University together. It’s a physical symbol of the need for connection; however, we can also do much more. For example, we want to encourage the use of bicycles so we should install more bike racks around Grounds and work with the city to build more bike lanes around the University. That’s all part of recreating a sense of physical integrity with connection and reweaving disjointed elements back into a unified fabric.
Neuman: We want to take advantage of the topography, as Jefferson did, to recognize it as a part of the natural beauty of the institution and its setting. We also have to pay attention to the technical aspects of our stewardship. We want to be a good neighbor and to create a more sustainable community. People talk about “green” architecture in our new designs, and this is a good idea that we are incorporating. But the “greenest” architecture is to preserve the better architecture and landscape that we already have and reuse it; for example, Fayerweather Hall, which is being renovated for its fourth use cycle.
IUVA: How can we sustain Jefferson’s vision?
Neuman: Thomas Jefferson and the University leaders who came after him contributed their time, their energy and most importantly, their creativity toward envisioning the most positive alternatives for the future. We have to use our own creative insights and contribute to U.Va.’s continuing environmental legacy for future generations just as they did for ours.
2005 by the Rector and Visitors