Board of Visitors Committee Endorses Karsh Institute of Democracy Building Plans

June 2, 2023 By Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors’ Buildings and Grounds Committee reviewed and approved plans and drawings Friday for the future home of the Karsh Institute of Democracy, a 65,000-square-foot facility that will be constructed as part of the Emmet-Ivy Entrance Corridor.

Initiated with a $50 million gift from Martha and Bruce Karsh, the Karsh Institute’s building is envisioned as an educational ecosystem designed to support scholarship, teaching and engagement around democracy, but also one that reflects the University’s roots.

The Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy will occupy approximately 17,500 square feet of space in the Karsh Institute. The building is designed to support and encourage collaboration among the Karsh Institute, the Batten School, and other schools, centers and departments across Grounds.

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View of the Karsh building at dusk
The Karsh Institute will be sited at one end of green space adjacent to the planned Virginia Guesthouse hotel and conference center and the School of Data Science. (Howeler +Yoon illustration)

“The Karsh Institute works closely with partners on Grounds, in the surrounding community, across the country and around the world to build and strengthen democracy, and our new building will expand our capacity to do so,” said Melody Barnes, executive director of the Karsh Institute. “At its best, architecture unites form and function and thanks to the generosity of Martha and Bruce Karsh, as well as the creativity of the design team, we’ll have vibrant space that reflects our mission and supports the collaborative nature of our work.”

The Karsh Institute will be sited at one end of a linear green space, adjacent to the planned Virginia Guesthouse hotel and conference center and the School of Data Science, currently under construction within the corridor.

In its December meeting, the committee considered preliminary designs for the institute and suggested revisions. Alice Raucher, architect for the University, presented the updated plans to the board on Friday, comparing key elements of the design of the Karsh Institute with the Rotunda and the Lawn.

Side profile of Karsh building
The Karsh Institute of Democracy will be the second academic building to be constructed in the Emmet-Ivy Entrance Corridor. (Howeler +Yoon illustration)

“We are proposing that the Karsh Institute, sitting at the head of a linear green, needs to be visually significant not only close up, but from a distance, not unlike how the Rotunda commands the view from the Lawn,” Raucher said. “A very different landscape from the Lawn, to be sure, but one that still provides a sense of the place.”

She said the Karsh Institute would present itself in the Emmet-Ivy Corridor as the Rotunda defines the Lawn.

“The design team, headed by the design architects Howeler +Yoon, began to think about the meaning of the program for the Karsh Institute of Democracy and the form the building might take, given not only our own founding ideals, but what we project for our future,” Raucher said. “There’s a wonderful parallel with the fact that the Rotunda was completed in 1826 and the Karsh Institute will be completed in 2026. Clearly, we want a design that speaks to democratic ideals, promotes healthy debate and discourse far into the future.”

Raucher said the team explored the materials and the colors to be used in the Karsh Institute and how that resonated with the Rotunda.

“As one reads the Rotunda as a brick drum behind a façade of white columns and under the white dome, we are proposing that the drum of the auditorium of the Karsh Institute is read as a warm red figure behind the screen of the white columned façade.” Raucher said. “The façade also has varying levels of transparency, given not only the desire to reveal the drum on the front façade as a beacon, but to temper solar exposure as one moves around the building to the south and west façades.”

Inside view of the auditorium in the new Karsh building
Inside the auditorium, the space allows for audience interaction and participation, regardless of whether the audience is a small class or a full-capacity crowd. (Howeler +Yoon illustration)

Raucher noted a change since the earlier design of materials on the exterior to ground the building to the site.

“We are proposing the base of the building – the cornerstones – which we had previously shown as a more monolithic limestone, to be constructed of warm white brick to match the ‘Swiss Coffee’ color of the Lawn, in a rusticated pattern with every other row recessed,” she said. “We feel that the use of brick grounds the building to the site and the pattern adds texture, warmth and human scale. The white columns of the upper portion of the building are pre-cast in the same ‘Swiss Coffee’ color.”

Raucher said the design team collaborated with the Karsh Institute as well as the Batten School to consider how the building would be used by students, faculty, staff, event attendees and external speakers and guests. The team developed integrated academic, research and work spaces surrounding the more public-facing auditorium, multimedia and event spaces. The plan for the lobby, designed to be a place of community activity, contains a spiral staircase that ascends to the auditorium, considered the heart of the building.

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“After testing a number of options to achieve the reading of the warm drum, we are proposing that the drum be clad in overlapping wood panels stained to match the red brick of the Rotunda,” Raucher said.

On the second floor, the pre-function space between the warm wood “drum” and the white columns with a view over the linear green, is inspired by the space of the portico, with the red brick of the Rotunda and the white columns framing the view of the Lawn. Inside the auditorium, the space allows for audience interaction and participation, regardless of whether the audience is a small class or a full-capacity crowd. The design of the balcony tiers are meant to provide “in the round” participation.

“The charge of the President’s Emmet-Ivy Task Force is to ‘create a welcoming and inviting place where local residents, visitors, and the University community interact,’” Raucher said. “The idea that this building could help facilitate education and active discussion surrounding ideals of democracy was very inspiring.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications