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Jefferson chose an undeveloped plot of land on the edge of Charlottesville on which to locate the University of Virginia. Jefferson was a skillful architect, a consummate builder, and an inveterate tinkerer. His belief in public service, his respect for the achievements of the past, and his sense of balance and proportion are expressed in the buildings he designed for his "academical village."
This educational community was built around a rectangular, terraced green -- the Lawn -- flanked by two continuous rows of identical, one-story rooms. These rows are accented by large buildings, the Pavilions, each in a different style. Both the rooms and the Pavilions open onto a colonnaded walkway fronting the Lawn. Behind each of the two rows of buildings are public gardens delineated by serpentine brick walls and backed by yet another set of rooms. The Rotunda, a half-scale model of the Roman Pantheon, closes off one end of the Lawn, while the south end was originally left open to a vista of the mountains.
The genius of Jefferson's design is that it integrates housing for students and faculty as well as classroom and library space into a single unit. Students lived on the Lawn and in the outer two rows of rooms, the Ranges. Faculty members lived in the Pavilions; the Rotunda held the library and classroom space.
Although the University has grown since Jefferson's time, the Lawn remains the intellectual and spiritual heart of the academical village and serves much of its original purpose. Students who have made special contributions to the University are awarded a Lawn room in their fourth-year; senior faculty and their families live in the Pavilions, where classes are also held; and graduate students live in the Ranges. The Rotunda's oval rooms and the Dome Room are used for meetings of the Board of Visitors, dinners, and other ceremonial occasions, as well as for student activities.
The special grace and character of Jefferson's design are widely recognized. As Ada Louise Huxtable has noted in the New York Times, the University "is probably the single most beautiful and effective architectural group of its kind in the country, or in the history of American building." In 1976, the American Institute of Architects proclaimed it one of the outstanding achievements in American architecture; in 1988, the Lawn was named to the prestigious World Heritage List.
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