South Lawn gets green light
The most ambitious construction project on the Central Grounds of the University in more than a century, the first phase of the South Lawn Project will add more than 100,000 square feet of academic space and will be the home of history, politics and religious studies.
Watercolor by Al Forster. (c) 2006 Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners
The much-anticipated South Lawn Project shifted into high gear when the Board of Visitors approved the design at its meeting on April 7.
The previous day, the project received the green light at the Buildings and Grounds Committee, which heard a detailed presentation from David J. Neuman, architect for the University, as well as comments from President John T. Casteen III, outgoing student board member Catherine Neale and incoming student member Anne Elizabeth Mullen, and Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Ed Ayers.
Once the committee made its unanimous vote, Rector Thomas F. Farrell II, acting chair of the committee, turned to Ayers and said: “Dean Ayers, you have your building. Now you’ve got to get the money.” Without a pause, Ayers got to his feet and headed toward the door: “I’ll leave now and start,” he said. “I’ll see you in two months.”
The most ambitious construction project at the University in more than a century, the first phase of the South Lawn Project will add more than 100,000 square feet of academic space and will be the home of history, politics and religious studies. The cost estimate for this phase is $105 million, and construction may begin in 2007 with completion in 2009.
The College Foundation, an independent organization created by Arts & Sciences alumni to manage philanthropic gifts in support of the school and its programs, has currently raised almost $30 million toward the cost of the project.
“I want to thank the people who have given us nearly $30 million when these drawings were done on the backs of napkins at tables all over America and who had faith that the University would rise to this,” Ayers said. “If we are going to take a bold step forward toward the 21st century that ties us to our past, this is the place.”
Noting that “the sheer intellectual work” put into the project has been extremely impressive, Casteen said, “I believe this is what our publics have been asking for.”
Added Neuman: “We are building for the next century. We think that this building project will function well when it opens, but we also believe that on the buildings’ 100th anniversary, everyone will say that we did a good job.”
The design was created by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners of Santa Monica, Calif., the firm chosen by the board in 2005. John Ruble, who leads the project’s design team as partner-in-charge, is a 1969 graduate of U.Va.’s School of Architecture.
The project will extend the axis and grid of Jefferson’s original Lawn across Jefferson Park Avenue, reinforcing the atmosphere of community that characterizes the U.Va. undergraduate experience.
“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.
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 buildings will feature classrooms equipped with the latest technology, gathering areas, flexible workspaces and faculty offices organized to foster collaboration.
A 100-foot-wide pedestrian terrace of lawn spans JPA, extending the axis of the original Lawn and unifying old and new. On all sides of the South Lawn building complex, multiple pedestrian routes lead to interior and exterior ramps and 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, framed by pergolas on two sides, with an overlook that recaptures the historic view of the distant ridgeline leading to Monticello. On the west side of this vista point, an exterior stair sweeps down to terraces and gardens below.
To the east, a glass-walled conservatory housing a café and a digital resource center is framed by the two porches that serve as entrances to the two wings of buildings that 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 reinterpret 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.
According to Neuman the buildings will be LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a national green-building rating system that recognizes high-performance buildings that incorporate state-of-the-art strategies for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.
This story originally appeared in the April 14th, 2006 issue of Inside UVA.