With BOV Approval, Darden’s Vision for Its Grounds Comes Into Focus

Darden Grounds at sunset

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications

The vision for the future of the Darden School of Business has become clearer as the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors recently approved a refreshed version of the school’s ambitious master plan.

Darden’s newest master plan includes the development of a centrally located “academic innovation hub” connecting existing Darden buildings, plus renovations to faculty and student learning spaces, Grounds enhancements to promote accessibility and wellness, and development of residential housing to more fully deliver on Darden’s world-class residential MBA experience.

“This master plan and the individual projects within will support the school’s strategy, past and future growth and aspirations for fulfilling our mission,” Darden Dean Scott Beardsley said. “Modernizing our aging facilities will help us remain competitive with our peers by enhancing faculty research and improving the overall student and alumni experience.”

Rendered aerial view of the proposed changes to Darden Grounds
The two buildings shown in the foreground of this artist’s rendering are among the group of new or enhanced facilities that will be part of Darden’s future. (Contributed image)

Architect for the University Alice Raucher outlined the architectural vision for Darden to the Board of Visitors during its September meeting. The plan includes:

  • Improvements to the north and south faculty buildings to support Darden’s faculty in their research and teaching.
  • Enhancements to the academic experience, including a centrally located academic innovation hub and technology spaces, to advance entrepreneurship, collaboration, connectivity, programs and student success. This will also create spaces for Darden’s Batten Institute to fulfill its mission of enabling and supporting student entrepreneurship, and replaces the functionality of Sponsors Hall and the iLab, which were demolished to make way for the new Darden hotel.
  • Innovative, high-quality residential housing to enhance Darden’s MBA experience and offer a more inclusive and integrated living and learning environment.
  • Enhancements to the Grounds through quads, landscaping, pedestrian bridges and open green spaces that expand outdoor learning options, improve North Grounds and Ivy Gardens connectivity, and enhance safety and accessibility for students.
  • An innovative parking deck topped with athletic fields to accommodate increased demand, create flexibility for future growth and expand recreation facilities for student health and wellness.

Raucher also explained that some of the proposed enhancements had been intended in the original design for Darden in the late 1990s, but ultimately had not been completed. During the meeting, Beardsley also addressed several questions from board members about the master plan and its relationship to Darden’s strategy and programs – specifically noting the needs of the increased size of the student body, faculty and staff; the need for high-quality facilities within a highly competitive business school landscape; and supporting the University’s efforts to address housing issues.

Schematic of proposed changes
The vision for the future Darden Grounds from above, showing new indoor and outdoor spaces. (Contributed image)

In 2016, Darden engaged Robert A.M. Stern Architects to update its original design for the Goodwin Family Grounds – which opened in 1998 – and develop a master plan to maximize strategic utilization of Darden facilities. Since 2016, Darden has embarked on several projects, including a new boutique hotel – on track for a spring 2023 opening – C. Ray Smith Alumni Hall, classroom improvements, botanical gardens and an arboretum, and the North Grounds Mechanical/Utility Plant conversion. Collectively, Darden leaders said, this progress catalyzed a need to update the master plan to reflect and consider current realities. 

Last year Darden reengaged the architectural firm to refresh the master plan with input from many stakeholder groups around its community. In April, the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed the master plan refresh before its consideration by the Board of Visitors.

Proposed Student Housing Project

In June, the board’s Buildings and Grounds Committee accepted a proposal from the Darden School to add a student housing project to UVA’s capital projects plan.

The housing projects being studied include possible buildings around the Darden parking garage and a second possible site near the North Grounds Recreation Center. Together, if built, they could accommodate up to over 400 students – more than 50% of Darden’s residential MBA population, although the sites may also be phased. Beardsley told board members that peer business schools – in particular the business schools at Stanford University, Harvard University and Dartmouth College – all have residential housing, a competitive advantage. He added that many students would continue to live at nearby Ivy Gardens and other areas close to the Darden Grounds if the new Darden housing is constructed. 

The Buildings and Grounds Committee still must review and approve the concept, site, design guidelines, and schematic design. To help shape the implementation of the refreshed master plan, and residential housing in particular, Beardsley is forming a working group of stakeholders from around Darden. 

“I’m grateful to these individuals for their voice and insight, and to the Darden School Foundation Board and University Board of Visitors for their support,” Beardsley said. “Together, we will work to ensure the Darden Goodwin Family Grounds in Charlottesville remains one of the premier campuses among our peer business schools.”

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