Contemplative Commons Reaches Construction Milestone

November 9, 2022 By Matt Kelly, Matt Kelly,

The University of Virginia’s new Contemplative Commons building, designed as a blend of academic classrooms, a research laboratory, innovation hub and serene contemplative spaces, has reached another milestone.

Observers clustered Wednesday on the pedestrian bridge spanning Emmet Street to watch a decorated white beam carefully lowered into place on the east tower of the Contemplative Commons on Emmet Street. The beam, signed by University officials, workers at the Contemplative Sciences Center and employees of general contractor Hourigan Construction Corp., marks the final, uppermost piece put into the structure’s skeleton.

“We are gathered today for the ritual of the final beam being put into place for the Contemplative Commons, thereby bringing its entire structure into being,” said David Germano, executive director of the Contemplative Sciences Center at a ceremony on the construction site. “I understand such rituals can be traced back to ancient religious practices of placing a tree on top of a new building to acknowledge and appease the land spirits displaced by the construction.”

The U-shaped building, which opens onto the Dell Pond, is designed as a multi-purpose complex dedicated to helping students flourish in all aspects of their lives. The design includes flexible learning studios that may be configured for academic classes, quiet reflection, physical activity or social interaction. The building will primarily house academic activities during the day, and also be available to host extracurricular events, social gatherings and local community engagements on evenings and weekends.

The 57,000-square-foot building, scheduled to open in 2023, is projected to cost $67.1 million.

“I think it is beautiful that a lot of people have worked and donated and supported this,” said Megan Ruby of the Contemplative Sciences Center Compassionate Schools Project, after she signed the beam. “This shows the community coming together and supporting the next generation.”

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In his remarks, Germano invoked the natural surroundings of the site, including Dell Pond.

“Welcome to the Dell Valley, through which Meadow Creek winds its way, starting with springs on Observatory Mountain, continuing through a botanic garden of Virginian native plants, and then spilling into this lovely pond,” Germano said. “Meadow Creek provided the water of life for the original Academical Village, and its history since then has included being a farmland, a golf course, an ice-skating pond, and an elaborate 1920s garden.”

He cited the more recent history of the creek, which had been buried, but was later restored as part of the University’s stormwater management plan – turning the Dell into a park-like setting.

“We are now embarked on its most recent transformation, into a building and landscape supporting the flourishing of this human, and more than human, world and drawing upon the transformative power of the natural and built environment, a core UVA value stemming from the inspired work of its founder, Thomas Jefferson,” Germano said.

Paul and Sonia Jones are the primary donors to the Contemplative Commons with a gift of $40 million.

“How does one design a university building to support flourishing and contemplation for young people?” Germano asked rhetorically. “I feel so grateful for everyone who has played crucial roles in taking this implausible dream and rendering it into this emerging reality of bricks and mortar, of stone and timber, of water and soil.”

Germano thanked people from the Office of the Architect for the University, Facilities Management, the contractor and its leadership team. He also cited Aidlin Darling, VMDO and Nelson Bryd Woltz, the architects involved in the project.

“I sometimes talk about it as a wonder machine, a factory of awe, a chamber of transformation,” Germano said. “And I hope that many people will experience it as such in years to come, but when they do, please know that I at least will remember and deeply appreciate all of you, the wizards behind the Oz whose hard work, care and intelligence are marking such experiences possible.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications