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University of Virginia's "Academical Village" includes the terraced green or Lawn, surrounded by connected pavilions and the Rotunda
Photograph courtesy of Shannon Bell

Thomas Jefferson's design for the center of today's sprawling university is internationally regarded as one of the outstanding accomplishments of American architecture. Jefferson's ambition of many years was to found a great university that would serve as "the future bulwark of the human mind in this country." It was not until he was more than 70, after he retired from a long life of public service, that Jefferson found the time to devote to the achievement of his dream. As a skilled architect, Jefferson was aware that an institution such as he contemplated must be given appropriate architectural expression. Jefferson's concept was an "Academical Village," where students lived in close proximity to the professors and their classrooms. Between 1814 and 1826 he designed and supervised the construction, created the curriculum, and selected the library and faculty. Flanking an elongated terrace open to the south, called the Lawn, 10 two-story pavilions housed the professors, each building embellished with a different version of an order of Roman architecture to serve as models for instruction. To connect the pavilions, Jefferson provided low colonnades fronting student dormitories. Additional student rooms were located in arcaded "ranges" paralleling the Lawn buildings. Each range contained three "hotels," or dining halls. As the focal point of the complex, Jefferson placed at the head of the Lawn the domed Rotunda, a scaled-down version of the Pantheon in Rome, to serve as the library.

One of the original Pavilions flanking the Lawn
Photograph courtesy of Shannon Bell

Construction of the buildings began in 1817, and the General Assembly officially chartered the school as the University of Virginia in 1819. While the university represents a major achievement in the history of American education, its architectural scheme was revolutionary and provided a prototype for numerous campus designs. Except for the burning of the Rotunda in 1895 and the demolition of the Anatomical Theater in 1938, Jefferson's original buildings have survived without significant alteration. The open south end of the Lawn was closed in the first decade of the 20th century with the construction of three architecturally outstanding academic buildings--Cabell Hall, Cocke Hall, and Rouss Hall--all designed by Stanford White, who was brought to Charlottesville to design the rebuilding of the Rotunda. White also designed the former university commons, now Garrett Hall, which is in the district. Other buildings of significance in the district are Brooks Hall of 1877, the Gothic Revival University Chapel of 1889, and the McIntire Ampitheater of 1921. Acknowledged as one of the most beautiful collegiate groupings in the world, this assemblage of buildings and spaces forms a living monument to Jefferson's genius.

The University of Virginia is bounded by University and Jefferson Park Aves. and Hospital and McCormick Rds., in Charlottesville. The district is a National Historic Landmark. There is a pamphlet that can be used for self-guided walking tours of the campus, while free guided tours of the campus are conducted from the Rotunda during the school year except during the three-week holiday break in Dec.-Jan. and during the final exam period during the first three weeks of May. Call 804-924-7969 or visit the website for further information. The University of Virginia is also a designated World Heritage Site.

The University of Virginia is the subject of an online-lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.


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