Medalists Share Lessons of Natural World, National Tragedies and Leadership

The winners of this year’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals in Architecture, Law and Citizen Leadership each spoke on Thursday and Friday, sharing lessons learned, respectively, from the inspiration of the natural world; the raw emotions felt by victims of national tragedies; and the commonalities of successful leadership in many spheres.

The highest honors bestowed by the University of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation – the independent, nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello – the medals were awarded Friday during Founder’s Day festivities.

This year’s recipients were:

  • Toyo Ito, a Tokyo-based architect who combines conceptual innovation with superbly executed buildings, as in his masterpiece, the Sendai, Japan Mediatheque, which reimagines what a public museum and library should be in the digital age.
  • Kenneth R. Feinberg, an attorney who has administered the compensation funds for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech and the Boston Marathon bombings.
  • James H. Webb Jr., a former U.S. senator (D-Va.) and Secretary of the Navy, decorated Vietnam veteran and successful author, journalist and filmmaker.

The medals, struck for the occasion, were presented Friday by U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan and Leslie Greene Bowman, president and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, at a ceremony in the Rotunda Dome Room. The recipients also were honored Thursday at a private dinner at Monticello.

This year’s medalists join a distinguished roster of medal winners that includes architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, I.M. Pei, Frank Gehry and Maya Lin; seven former and current U.S. Supreme Court justices; former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher; Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve; former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano; and several former and current U.S. senators, including John Warner, George Mitchell, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Sam Nunn.

Founder’s Day is observed on or near the April 13 birthday of Jefferson, who founded U.Va. Among the other events held Friday were a tree planting on the Lawn in honor of longtime Facilities Management employee Jay Klingel; the revival of “Public Day,” an opportunity for students to share their work with the community; and the public announcement of the Jefferson Trust grants, which support new initiatives at the University.

Toyo Ito Shares Organic Inspiration and Evolution of His Design Style

After Toyo Ito, a Tokyo-based architect, gave his presentation, students lined up to get his autograph. Such is the fame of this year’s Jefferson Medalist in Architecture.

Hundreds gathered in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium to hear Ito describe the evolution of his style. He showed slides and short videos that revealed the organic structures and shapes characteristic of his designs – from his first house through his international commissions up to the latest one still under construction.

Ito mentioned that he attended an architecture conference at U.Va. in 1982 and was impressed by the beautiful Grounds. Some of his designs have serpentine walls reminiscent of the Academical Village’s garden walls.

Ito designed his family’s house, called “Silver Hut” and built in 1984, with rounded roofs with an open structure on one side. His wife always complained about its openness, he said.

“When storms came, I would just stand under the tree,” he said.

His masterpiece, the Sendai Mediatheque, reimagines what a public museum and library should be in the digital age. The combination library-art gallery-conference facility features an open design on the ground floor with glass walls that open in warm weather.

“I wanted it to be a beautiful structure with lots of natural light coming through,” he said.

His sports stadium in Odate, Japan, completed in 1997, utilized a unique shape and structure to create one of the world’s largest wooden domes, using locally sourced cypress beams. The dome is shaped like half an egg – “that was cutting-edge,” he quipped.

“I went back there last year, and 15 years later could still smell the timber,” Ito said.

Stretched over the beams is a super strong, translucent Teflon-coated membrane roof, which allows natural light to greatly reduce the need for artificial lighting. The roof’s egg shape works well in the heavy winters because the wind blows snow off the roof or it slides off, he said. The roof is also composed of two layers of fabric, which trap warm air between them, helping melt the snow.

In a luxury shopping district of Tokyo, Ito designed a building completed in 2004 for Tod’s, an Italian leather-goods company, featuring a complex concrete façade with more than 260 glass openings that create shapes reminiscent of tree branches.

Ito showed a short movie explaining his inspiration for the design. The movie started with a leafy tree, which morphed into the empty branches, and then back to the leafy tree, repeated over and over until a viewer could see how the organic shapes are reflected in the building’s walls. Then the building’s seven floors gradually appeared with people walking across them, demonstrating how the building is both inspired by the tree’s rhythms of life and becomes an alive space for people, a “clothing” for urban dwellers, a metaphor Ito has used to distill his approach to design. 

“For me,” he has said, “the task of the architect is to release people from … restrictive frameworks by creating spaces in which they feel at ease and in which they can attain some degree of freedom.”

– By Anne Bromley

Feinberg: Victim Compensation Funds Serve Multiple Needs

As the nation’s leading expert in mediation and alternative dispute resolution, Kenneth Feinberg has allocated billions in compensation to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the BP oil spill, the Boston marathon bombings, and other national tragedies.

Perhaps the most challenging part has been handling the fragile emotions of victims and their families, Feinberg said Friday at the U.Va. School of Law in a talk titled “Unconventional Responses to Unique Catastrophes.”

“What I do, as you guys know, is not rocket science,” he said. “It doesn't require a special expertise. It really doesn't. You better brace yourself emotionally and you better think about ‘rough justice.’”

As the special master of the federal Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, Feinberg (working pro bono) evaluated 7,400 claims and made $7 billion in awards. He has also served as fund administrator for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which gave out $8 million to victims of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, and he advised the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, which distributed $7.7 million to victims of the December 2012 elementary school shooting in Connecticut.

“His role frequently requires assigning a dollar value to human life, but his compassion, fairness and willingness to listen make that process not actuarial, but humane,” Law School Dean Paul G. Mahoney said during his introduction.

In his talk, Feinberg described the two kinds of funds he has managed.

Government-sanctioned funds, like those set up in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, or BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, serve as alternatives to the tort system and have two purposes: to help victims of the disasters and to avert a flood of potential lawsuits that would tie up the courts for years.

Funds created through donations, like the $60 million One Fund to help victims of the Boston marathon bombing, are concerned only with helping victims, and typically place no restrictions on payment recipients to prevent lawsuits. Nonetheless, people who are compensated by charitable funds typically choose not to sue, Feinberg said,

“Why don't people take that money, hire a lawyer and litigate?” he asked. One reason, he later surmised, was that the process of receiving the funds allowed victims to tell their story to the fund administrator, or talk about loved ones who have died.

“They want to vent, they want to explain, they want to commiserate, they want empathy, they want understanding. They want certainty. ... And they can't get that in the legal system.”

As he worked on the Sept. 11 fund, his office was filled with memorabilia – ribbons, videos and audio of loved ones who died.

“My law degree in most of these programs is a wash – doesn't help,” he said. “A divinity degree would help, or a degree in psychology would help. You're dealing with very vulnerable people. And when you take on these assignments, brace yourself. ... You will never, ever hear a claimant come to me and say ‘thank you,’ or show appreciation, or gratitude, nor do you expect it.”

­  – By Mary Wood

Jim Webb: Five Leadership Principles That Work Anywhere

“In one lifetime, Jim Webb has uniquely embodied many of the ways in which Americans can serve as citizen-leaders,” said Harry Harding, dean of U.Va.’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, in introducing the Jefferson Medalist in Citizen Leadership to more than 100 Batten students gathered Thursday in Garrett Hall.

Webb has been a decorated combat Marine and a counsel in the Congress, Harding noted. He served as an assistant secretary of defense and Secretary of the Navy, and as U.S. senator from Virginia. He is also an Emmy-award winning journalist, a screenwriter, a filmmaker, and the author of 10 books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Webb told students that he had identified five basic principles, or areas of proficiency, needed to be a successful leader in virtually any context: relevant knowledge and skills; management and communication skills; moral courage; loyalty; and the “style” to be yourself.

The specific requirements of each principle – the knowledge and skill set, or the moral challenges – often vary from one setting to the next.

For instance, unique skills and knowledge are needed to be a senator versus a president or a secretary of defense, Webb explained. A great legislator, like Lyndon Johnson, is a master of counting votes, persuasion and making deals. A legislator also must be a listener, Webb said. In putting together a bill to create a National Criminal Justice Commission as a senator, Webb said he met with more than 100 organizations from across the philosophical spectrum, listened to them and made changes based on their feedback, and eventually garnered support for the bill from groups across the political spectrum, from the ACLU to law enforcement advocates.

In contrast, a president must make firm decisions, back those decisions up and carry them out. And a secretary of defense, as Webb learned serving under former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, must simultaneously manage current military situations around the world as well as three versions of the massive U.S. defense budget: implementing the current budget, arguing the next budget in front of Congress and developing a future budget.

Although people used to debate whether management and leadership are basically the same thing, management is actually a skill that enables leadership, Webb said. Management skills include determining how many people you can directly supervise – one’s “span of control” in military lingo, typically three to seven people – and establishing chains of command in order to manage through your staff. At one time Weinberger had 11 assistant secretaries of defense reporting to him, so Webb recommended reducing his number of direct reports by consolidating them under undersecretary of defense positions, a reform that Weinberger implemented and which remains to this day.

Courage in the face of physical risk on a battlefield is simpler than moral courage, Webb said. As a Marine rifle platoon and company commander in Vietnam, rule No. 1 was “don’t ask anyone to take a risk I wouldn’t take myself.” Moral courage, in contrast, “means sometimes having to confront the system you are working inside,” Webb said.

A leader must have loyalty “both up and down,” Webb said – both to one’s staff, and to one’s superiors and organization one serves.

“Sometimes it’s hard to carry out orders,” he noted. However, “if you don’t support the structure you work in, it will fall apart.”

That also means not recounting the details of private meetings, a standard practice for many Washington autobiographies. As the author of 10 books, Webb said he had never written a word about anything Weinberger or anyone else had told him in confidence. “That doesn’t mean I didn’t question policies, question constantly.”

Lastly, a leader must have “style,” meaning “you have to be yourself,” Webb said. “If you’re not yourself, people will sense it immediately, and it will affect your ability to convince them to do everything you want to do.”

With those five principles, “no matter where you go, I think you’ve got a pretty good way to examine what it takes to be successful as a leader,” Webb said.

– By Brevy Cannon

Media Contact

H. Brevy Cannon

Media Relations Associate Office of University Communications