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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 Virginiamarker. The design shows Jefferson's mastery of Palladian architecture. There is similarity to Palladio's published design for the Villa Trissino marker.

Its most famous building is The Rotundamarker, which sits at the north end of the site, opposite Old Cabell Hall. Interspersed and parallel between them are 10 Pavilions, 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 Pantheonmarker in brick with white columns, that originally held the University's library.

Engraving by Peter Maverick of the plan of the University of Virginia, after Jefferson's drawing, 1826.


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 College of William and Marymarker, 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, Monticellomarker. 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.

Jefferson 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 Capitolmarker:

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 Representatives. 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 design.

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 Village.

Uses of the Lawn



Graduation 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 Debating Society (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 Kappa Sigma 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 intended.

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. The McIntire School of Commerce 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 office space.

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 Schoolmarker. 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 Daily.

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

  1. Wills, 51.
  2. Wills, 49-52.
  3. Wills, 91-94.
  4. Bruce, I:187.
  5. Wills, 102.
  6. Wills, 55-56.
  7. Dabney, 392.
  8. Wills, 17.
  9. Bruce, IV: 274-277.
  10. Patton, 235.

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