The Lawn (part of Thomas Jefferson's Academical
Village) is a large, terraced grassy court at the historic
center of Jefferson's academic community at the University of
The design shows Jefferson's mastery
of Palladian architecture
. There is similarity to
Palladio's published design for the Villa
famous building is The Rotunda, which sits at the north end of the site, opposite
Old Cabell Hall.
Interspersed and parallel between them are
, where faculty
reside in the upper two floors and teach on the first, as well as
54 Lawn rooms, where carefully selected undergraduates reside in
their final year.
History and architecture of the Lawn
The Lawn is used to refer either to the original grounds designed
by Thomas Jefferson for the University of Virginia, or specifically
to the grassy field around which the original university buildings
are arrayed. The Lawn consists of four rows of colonnades on which
alternate student rooms and larger buildings. The inner rank of
colonnades, facing the central Lawn proper, contains ten Pavilions
(which provided both classrooms and housing for the professors who
) and 54 student rooms, while the outer rank, facing outward,
contain six Hotels (typically service buildings and dining
establishments) and another 54 student rooms. At the head of the
colonnades, facing south down the Lawn, is the Rotunda, a one-half scale
copy of the Pantheon in brick
with white columns, that originally held the University's
Jefferson's design for the Lawn sought to
find an alternative to traditional single-building college
architecture, such as that he experienced as a student at the
William and Mary, due to its being "noisy, unhealthy, vulnerable to
fires, and affording little privacy." The overall model for
the Lawn (the U-shaped plan with a central dome) is similar to, and
may have been influenced by, Joseph Jacques Ramée's design for
Union College and Benjamin
Latrobe's design for a military academy, as well as by the
designs of Palladio and by his own house,
Engraving by Peter Maverick of the
plan of the University of Virginia, after Jefferson's drawing,
Along the legs of the U, the colonnades
provide sheltered, but outdoor, communication between the pavilions
and the student rooms, and while everything in the Lawn
communicates with the Lawn or the outside world, there is privacy
afforded by the walled gardens.
separated the buildings of the lawn into 10 units, or Pavilions, to
reflect his classification of the branches of learning, and
designed the relationship between them and the rest of the Lawn
Each of the ten Pavilions has a unique design, intended to give
individual dignity to each branch of study, and the whole was
intended to serve as a sort of outdoor classroom for architectural
study, as he wrote to William
Thornton, architect of the United States Capitol:
Thornton obliged with designs for two pavilions, one of which was
adapted for the design of Pavilion VII, the first to be built.
Jefferson also solicited designs from Benjamin Latrobe
, who had worked with
Jefferson on the chambers for the United States House of
. Latrobe responded with a sketch showing the
plan of the University, with a domed structure resembling
Palladio's Villa Capra "La Rotonda"
and sent a second large drawing in October 1817 showing at least
five Pavilion elevations, and maybe 10 (while he had promised
Jefferson "seven or eight" Pavilions, the actual drawing has been
lost). It is believed that Latrobe's drawings were used for the
designs of Pavilions III, V, IX and X Further, it is speculated
that many of the eastern Pavilions were based on Latrobe's designs,
as Jefferson prepared the drawings for all five buildings in a mere
three weeks. Throughout the process, Jefferson adapted the designs
to fit the site, adjusting the width, specifying the entablature
, and providing the detailed design
of the interior of the Rotunda.
Steel engraving, 1831
There are a total of 206 columns surrounding the Lawn: 16 on The
Rotunda, 38 on the Pavilions, 152 on the walkways. The columns are
of varying orders according to the formality and usage of the
space, with Corinthian columns on the exterior of the Rotunda
giving way to Doric, Ionic, and Composite orders inside; Doric,
Ionic, or Corinthian on each of the pavilions; and a relatively
humble Tuscan colonnade along the Lawn walkways.
The area between the Pavilions and the Ranges was designated as
garden space in Thomas Jefferson's original plans. The current
design of the gardens is a result of an initiative begun by
University president Colgate Darden
to return them to something approximating the original Jeffersonian
The overall effect of the different portions of the Lawn, the
Rotunda, Pavilions, student rooms, and the physical site, is, in
the words of Garry Wills, "paradoxical ... regimentation and
individual expression ... hierarchical order and relaxed
improvising. ... But it is the reconciliation of these apparent
irreconcilables that is the genius of the system."
Following the burning of the Rotunda in 1895, the firm of McKim, Mead, and White
and its noted
architect Stanford White
was hired to
rebuild the Rotunda and to create new academic buildings to
compensate for the loss of the Rotunda annex. White created three
academic buildings, Cocke Hall, Rouss Hall, and Cabell Hall (now
Old Cabell Hall) at the base of the Lawn, enclosing the southern
view which had previously been open to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The creation of this building group enclosed the Lawn and set its
dimensions permanently; subsequent development of the University
has happened outside of the boundaries of the Academical
Uses of the Lawn
exercises at the University of
Virginia are held on the Lawn every May, and it is considered one
of the institution's major traditions.
Being chosen for residence in one of the Lawn rooms is considered
prestigious. All undergraduate students who will graduate at the
end of their year of residency are eligible to apply to live in one
of the 47 rooms open to the general student body. Applications –
which vary from year to year, but generally include a résumé,
personal statement and responses to several questions – are
reviewed by a reading committee and the top vote-getters are
offered Lawn residency, with several alternates also given notice
of potential residency. Five of the remaining seven rooms are
"endowed" by organizations on Grounds: the Jefferson Literary and
(room 7; founded there on July 14, 1825),
Trigon Engineering Society (room 17; founded on November 3, 1924),
Residence Staff (room 26), the Honor Committee (room 37) and the
fraternity (room 46; founded
there on December 10, 1869). These groups have their own selection
process for choosing who will live in their Lawn room although the
Vice President for Student Affairs renders final approval. The Gus
Blagden "Good Guy" room (15) resident is chosen from a host of
nominees and does not necessarily belong to any particular group.
Residency in the John K. Crispell memorial pre-med room (1) is
usually granted to an outstanding pre-med student from among the
group of 47 offered regular Lawn residency.
Residence in the pavilions is also desirable. However, only nine of
the pavilions have faculty residents, as Pavilion VII is the
Colonnade Club. The University's Board of Visitors has final
approval over which faculty members may live in a pavilion.
Pavilion residency is typically offered as a three- or five-year
contract with the option to renew. Pavilion residents are expected
to interact with their younger "Lawnie" neighbors, as Jefferson
The University has recently begun celebrating winter with the
"Lighting of the Lawn". Early each December since 2001, some 22,000
small white lightbulbs are draped around the various buildings of
the Lawn and lit up at once with great ceremony, immediately
following the reading of a student-composed holiday-themed poem.
The lights are turned on each nightfall until the end of the
semester, usually about two weeks later. Thousands of students turn
out for the opening event.
The South Lawn Project
In the near future, the Lawn will change considerably as a
consequence of the South Lawn Project
McIntire School of
has moved to a newly-renovated Rouss Hall, formerly
home of the College's Economics department. Monroe Hall (former
home of the McIntire School) will become part of the College. As
part of the project, New Cabell Hall will be renovated (though it
was originally planned for demolition), and the Lawn will be
extended via a bridge over Jefferson Park Avenue to the space
across and "above" the street – where today there is a faculty
parking lot. The overall project will add over of classroom and
Originally awarded to modernist New York architecture firm Polshek
Partnership,, the current architects, Moore Rubel Yudell, have
chosen a neoclassicist approach for the project. Criticism has
arisen over the allegedly derivative architectural nature of the
project. Not only does it ape certain aspects of The Lawn, leading
some critics to call it a "theme park," but it also would utilize a
traditional red brick appearance that critics allege that the
always-innovating Jefferson - were he alive today - would have
dumped as new technologies arose.
This tension, common on college campuses around America and
elsewhere, illustrates the broader conundrum of how to expand an
architectural icon, taking advantage of modern building techniques
and related cost advantages, without being obviously derivative in
style. Other critics take the point of view that the
neoclassicist approach is more appropriate in the context of the
University of Virginia, contrasting the plans to other University
projects like the modernist Hereford
College and the revivalist Darden School.
There has been open feuding over the
neoclassical architectural approach ultimately chosen, with both
sides writing letters or taking out ad space in the University's
student newspaper, the Cavalier
The University has stated its intention to have the South Lawn
Project LEED certified. The South Lawn Project is expected to be
completed sometime in the fall of 2010.
Notes and references
- Wills, 51.
- Wills, 49-52.
- Wills, 91-94.
- Bruce, I:187.
- Wills, 102.
- Wills, 55-56.
- Dabney, 392.
- Wills, 17.
- Bruce, IV: 274-277.
- Patton, 235.