200 Years On, Architectural Experiments Continue at Jefferson’s University

Those returning to the University of Virginia for upcoming bicentennial celebrations will notice a new addition near the historic Lawn’s familiar 10 pavilions.

Students and faculty members in the School of Architecture have created a temporary addition to Thomas Jefferson’s vision for a living and learning community, one of numerous artworks being prepared for the Oct. 6 Bicentennial Launch Celebration. 

The final product – a series of interlocking arches made of nontoxic, recyclable polypropylene plastic – is very different from the neoclassical style that Thomas Jefferson admired. However, Jefferson, who had a chemistry lab installed in the Rotunda, likely would have been fascinated by the technology used in its production.

As part of a digital fabrication course, students designed their own computer algorithms that built a 3-D model of the pieces they envisioned – a valuable skill for the evolving architecture industry they will enter.

A three-axis CNC router machine in the school’s Fabrication Lab used the digital model to cut the design out of large sheets of plastic. Slight changes to the algorithm over time created interlocking structures that relate to each other while having their own distinct features – much like Jefferson’s original pavilions.

“Students wanted to pay tribute to the pavilions while also creating something distinct and very much of this time,” architecture professor Michael Beaman said. “As we worked with the students on the designs, we were inspired by the pavilions, which are all self-similar but have slightly different features.”

Beaman taught the class with Fabrication Facilities manager Melissa Goldman and guest lecturer Andrew Kudless, a professor of architecture at the California College of the Arts and one of innovators at the cutting edge of digital fabrication in architecture.

We followed along as they built their own interpretation of Jefferson’s pavilions from scratch. Take a look below.