April 6, 2006 -- The University of Virginia today unveiled the schematic design for the South Lawn Project, a complex of four buildings that will provide a new academic center for the College of Arts & Sciences, at a meeting of the Board of Visitors’ Buildings and Grounds Committee. Presented by David J. Neuman, architect for the University, the design shows how this landmark project will extend the axis of Thomas Jefferson’s original Lawn across Jefferson Park Avenue and reinforces the atmosphere of community that characterizes the U.Va. undergraduate experience. The design was created by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners of Santa Monica, Calif., the firm chosen by the Board of Visitors in 2005 to design the project.
“The charge presented to the design team,” Neuman said, “was to seek inspiration from the composition of Jefferson’s original Lawn, including the character and scale of its landscape and architecture, without resorting to imitation.” Given the influence of the College’s academic requirements and the challenges posed by the Central Grounds’ historic architectural fabric and a steeply sloping site, the South Lawn Project will feature a complex, three-dimensional arrangement of buildings and gardens that provides an important link to the Central Grounds.
The most ambitious construction undertaking on U.Va.’s Central Grounds in a century, the South Lawn Project will feature new buildings that enhance the school’s academic program with classrooms equipped with the latest technology, gathering areas, flexible workspaces and faculty offices organized to foster collaboration. Among the schematic design’s features are two parallel wings of academic buildings that establish an east-west sequence, linking the College of Arts & Sciences to the adjacent Foster Family historic site and complementing the nearby Medical Center. These buildings frame an outdoor courtyard reminiscent of the pavilion gardens adjacent to the Lawn.
The design also calls for a proposed formal extension of a pedestrian terrace, a nearly 100-foot-wide panel of lawn that will span JPA, thus continuing the grid of the Central Grounds and unifying old and new University functions. In both layout and functionality, the South Lawn facilities seek to address the reality of pedestrian and vehicular movement on JPA in terms of safety, accessibility and image, by paying attention to the character of the space below the crossing as well. On all sides of the South Lawn building complex, multiple pedestrian routes lead to interior and exterior stairs ascending to the terrace in order to direct as much pedestrian traffic as possible onto the terrace itself.
The terminus of the South Lawn Terrace is a circular plaza with an overlook that recaptures the historic view of the distant ridgeline leading to Monticello, Jefferson’s home. On the west side of this vista point, an exterior stair sweeps down to terraces and gardens below. To the east, a conservatory housing a café and a digital resource center is framed by two west-facing porches that serve as entrances to perpendicular wings of buildings, which will house the College’s programs in history, religious studies and politics.
As with the building design, the landscape for the South Lawn Project has been carefully planned. The terrace is a formal expanse of lawn floating through adjacent trees and topography. The landscaping also includes a simple system of walls, water retention gardens and other details that both re-interpret and blend with existing site conditions. Moore Ruble Yudell is working in conjunction with landscape architects Cheryl Barton and Walter Hood, as well as other consultants selected by the University for this important and challenging commission.
John Ruble, who leads the project’s design team as partner-in-charge and is a 1969 graduate of U.Va.’s School of Architecture, said that his interest in the South Lawn goes back to his years as an undergraduate student. “The Lawn is a brilliant statement of the place of community in an academic setting. Among our highest goals would be the shaping of such a community — providing the kind of continuity, connectivity and identity that would sustain Mr. Jefferson’s vision in a new century.”