On Friday, the University of Virginia unveiled a University Remembrance Garden honoring students who have died during their time at UVA.
The garden, located between Newcomb Hall and Clemons Library, represents years of work by students, administrators and community members who secured funding and designed the site. The site was designed and constructed with local funds, not tuition or state funding.
Those efforts began more than a decade ago as a class project in the School of Architecture, where students in Nancy Takahashi’s landscape architecture class created their own designs for a remembrance garden on Grounds. The designs eventually made their way to Student Council’s Building and Grounds Committee, which added the garden to its growing to-do list.
Sadly, a tragedy propelled the garden to the top of that list: the 2014 murder of second-year student Hannah Graham made the need for a remembrance garden all too clear.
Students put together a temporary memorial to Graham near Newcomb Hall, with flowers, candles and skis – a nod to her dedication to UVA’s Alpine Ski and Snowboard Team. However, Student Council members realized that having a specific space for such memorials would be helpful.
“We wanted to have a more permanent space ready,” said 2017 School of Architecture graduate Daniel McGovern, who was on the Building and Grounds Committee at the time. “It is a difficult, morbid issue to talk about, but UVA is a community of thousands of people, and unfortunately tragedies do happen.”
McGovern; Caroline Herre, a student representative on UVA’s Arboretum and Landscape Committee; and other students worked closely with UVA’s Facilities Management division and landscape architecture firm Rhodeside & Harwell to design the garden unveiled Friday. They raised funds, wrote grant proposals and surveyed more than 250 students to fine-tune their design requirements.
“We tried to make the process behind the design as inclusive as we could,” said Herre, who earned a master’s degree in urban planning in May and now works in Washington, D.C. “I had close friends pass away while I was a student, so I was very keen on this idea.”
The final design includes a prominent Remembrance Wall, where students can write tributes and place memorials for classmates; a small plaza with a large curving concrete bench; and a more secluded back garden, featuring shaded benches and plenty of greenery. The back wall includes two items that were already at the site: a plaque commemorating deceased students, donated by the UVA Parents Fund years ago, and a bench donated by the family of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, the only UVA alumnus killed in the Iraq War.
“While we never want to lose a member of our community, we hope this will be a place for the entire University – not only for remembrance, but for thought, reflection and expression,” Facilities Management Project Services Director Mark Stanis said when unveiling the site Friday.
Each element was chosen to give the small courtyard a sense of place that would draw people in.
“This space sits on a northwest path that connects a lot of other important student spaces like Clemons Library and Newcomb Terrace, but it was not a well-defined space, or particularly inviting,” said Helen Wilson, a senior landscape architect in the Office of the Architect. “Now, it fills a need for a more contemplative space alongside other more social spaces.”
Rhodeside & Harwell did the final design, with engineering by Dewberry Engineers and construction by UVA Facilities Management and Faulconer Construction Company. Fine Concrete, a design firm co-founded by UVA architecture professor Alexander Kitchin and Nicole Sherman, designed the Remembrance Wall and connected bench.
McGovern, who accepted a job offer at Fine Concrete after graduating, said the design team debated inscribing the names of deceased students on the Remembrance Wall, but ultimately decided to keep it blank to avoid inadvertent omissions and leave as much space as possible for students to write their own messages.
“We wanted the garden to work just as well 50 years from now as it does today,” he said.
They also wanted the garden to be a welcoming space, both for students grieving the loss of their classmates and for students coping with other issues and in need of a quiet spot.
“My hope is that students see this as a place they can go not just to remember a classmate, but to deal with anything going on in their lives, to have a quiet moment to themselves,” Herre said. “I like that the space is flexible, while still dedicated to remembering fellow Wahoos.”
Current Student Council President Sarah Kenny called the new garden “a significant addition to Grounds that Student Council members have been working toward for several years now.”
“I can imagine few things more tragic than a young adult with a world full of opportunity ahead of them losing their life,” she said. “This garden will provide their classmates, faculty and loved ones with an interactive space to keep the flame of their memory alive. … It sits at the heart of University student life, where we can now ensure the legacies of those we have lost will continue to burn bright.”