Category Archives: Buildings and Grounds

Red Brick or Limestone for the Temple of Democracy?

Preliminary draft design for the Institute of Democracy building on Ivy Road.

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia’s newly formed Karsh Institute of Democracy will be housed in a signature building, a key part of the Ivy Road corridor in Charlottesville that will include an Olympic sports center, the football program, the School of Data Science, a conference center, and structured parking. Expecting to invite world-class speakers to the venue, UVa officials want the building to make a memorable architectural statement.

In a presentation to the Board of Visitors last week, University Architect Alice J. Raucher walked board members through the thinking behind the preliminary design. Thematically, the architects sought to link UVa’s founding ideals while looking ahead for the next 200 years and highlighting the university’s “global identity” as a forward-looking institution, she said. The signature staircase was inspired by the Oval Rooms in the Rotunda, and the window panels by the classical columns of Thomas Jefferson’s academical village. The design also is meant to communicate the “message of democracy” by being a “welcoming, inviting, inclusive” place that is “open and transparent.”

Some board members liked the design. But it left others cold.

“The building is a beautiful building, but it has nothing to do with the University of Virginia,” said board member Bert Ellis in the first response to the presentation. There is nothing in the design to tie the building to the rest of the UVa grounds, where the dominant motif is red brick. Continue reading