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Alumni News — Winter 2003

A New Look for the Old Neighborhood

Dear Alumni and Friends:

As you drive south on Emmet Street, past the shops at Barracks Road, a couple of banks and the fast-food places, only a sign or two and (when the leaves have fallen) the distant dome of U-Hall suggest that the University is in the neighborhood. This is about to change.

By 2006, visitors approaching from the north will discover an Emmet Street that will both announce the presence of the University, and (for the first time) draw visitors toward the Academical Village and the University's historic center. On the northwest corner of Emmet and Massie Road, the John Paul Jones Arena, along with a 100,000-square-foot, 1,200-seat performing arts center to be built with Carl Smith's support on the other side of Massie Road, will shape a genuine gateway for the University.

Crossing Emmet Street, a new pedestrian bridge, part of the Groundswalk system of pathways linking the University's scattered components, will open up the Central Grounds to the North Grounds, which have been so far accessible primarily by car or bus. The bridge will open in early 2004. When you visit next year, you will be able to walk at an even pace from the Rotunda to the Darden School in about 15 minutes.

Down the road, at Carr's Hill field and Nameless field, in the open area just south of Lambeth House, and in the Dell, what some call "hardscape" will join with landscape after the completion of the Meadow Creek "daylighting" project. Starting this winter, the Meadow Creek, buried since 1950, will be raised to the surface. By the creek, garden spots will be developed along the section of Emmet Street that passes between Mem. Gym and the eastern end of the Dell.

The buildings now in progress and those to be built in the next five years—the John Paul Jones Arena; the new Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library; and the new buildings at the south end of the Lawn—have been planned in the context of educational, historical and communal values. These purposes make for logistically complex projects.

Following Mr. Jefferson's example, our Board and planners are working to create academic space that accommodates both formal and informal communal learning: space that is close by faculty offices and student living, space that is flexible and useful for both traditional teaching and teaching in less formal, more experimental formats. My favorite example of informal teaching space is the Alderman Café in what used to be the catalogue hall, where students and faculty share yuppie coffees while working together over books, laptops and notebooks. Similar meeting ground in other places will be built into our new buildings.

The Board is now hard at work on arrangements for new research space because our externally funded programs no longer fit into older space and because new programs require additional labs and similar spaces. New opportunities come in various disciplines, in engineering and health, especially, and opportunities continue to grow. These new facilities, away from the center but generally accessible by way of the Groundswalk, must be designed to hold constantly increasing, ever more complex research equipment, to allow collaboration between researchers, and, frankly, to attract scientific stars to the faculty.

No matter what their purposes, these buildings must fit into their neighborhoods. University building projects influence ways of life in Charlottesville and the surrounding county. I have written before about our efforts to control sprawl into adjacent areas. Under the plans now followed by the Board, we are designing buildings (such as the new McIntire School and the College's South Lawn Project) to make better use of space we already occupy before expanding very far beyond.

Architects working on these projects and the faculty members and others who consult with them seem to take special pleasure in working in the historical context of this place. I am struck, even during the bitterest neighborhood controversies (such as the one last year about the new garage now nearing completion along the tracks behind the restaurant that occupies the site of the old Cavalier Cavery), by the determination these people bring to the task of sustaining the best of what is, even while balancing the demands of traffic, large new structures and the like.

All buildings, but especially a university's buildings, ought to be more than piles or assemblages of brick and mortar or places of shelter. Good buildings come about as close to being living and breathing entities as inorganic objects get. University buildings, at their best (as in the instance of the Rotunda) breathe life into intellectual inquiry, and connect one scholar to another. Here, in special ways, they link the future to the past—as in the instance of the new Harrison Institute, now nearing completion on the footprint of the old Miller lab.

Come visit the Grounds soon. Watch these buildings come to life and watch the life of the University come into these buildings. I think you will enjoy the experience regardless of whether or not you can see them through a brass telescope standing in an open window of a bedroom up on Monticello Mountain.


John T. Casteen III