Jefferson Medalists Laud Founder's Relevance in Modern World

April 16, 2012 — The awarding of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals in architecture, law and citizen leadership on Friday offered their recipients an opportunity to marvel at Jefferson's continued relevance in the modern world.

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 during the annual Founder's Day festivities on Friday. Each of the recipients gave public talks connecting Jefferson's legacy to modern-day issues and challenges in their respective fields.

This year's recipients were:

Rafael Moneo, a Spanish architect known for innovative modern buildings that respect existing environments, who received the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture.
George Mitchell, former U.S. senator and statesman who brokered a peace accord in Northern Ireland, who received the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law.
Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the global think tank, who received the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership.

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

Moneo Lauds Jefferson's Adaptation of Classical Style for Contemporary Use

For architect, theorist, critic and teacher Rafael Moneo, his work is about "emphasizing buildings as enduring monuments to society," said School of Architecture Dean Kim Tanzer in her introduction to Moneo's talk presented Friday in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium.

In his presentation, Moneo paid tribute to Thomas Jefferson, the architect. "Today is a day to celebrate how Jefferson has established a clear ethical direction for all us architects," he said. "Familiar as we are with the range of his intellectual curiosity, it comes as no surprise that he felt a passion for architecture, since building represents one of man's essential activities in every culture."

Moneo praised Jefferson for his vision that combined the old – Palladian architectural elements – while adapting it to the taste and styles of a new society.

"The most valuable lesson we architects receive from someone with no formal architectural education, who loved architecture profoundly – to keep architecture connected with nature and social habits through the use of reason," he said. "What could be a better lesson for architects – or for any profession?"

In his own work, Moneo shares Jefferson's respect for historical precedent, preserving and respecting urban environments while creating innovative modern architecture.

One of his best-known works, the Museum of Roma Art in Mérida, Spain, is a building "where present and past coalesce," paying tribute to the city's Roman history, Moneo said. "The building encompasses two different moments in Mérida history."

The new walls line up with old foundations, making it difficult to distinguish where the old ends and new begins. The brick used throughout was a kind used extensively in Roman times – a way to "respect" history, he said.

Moneo said his design for the Kursaal Congress Center in San Sebastian, Spain, is an example of the role of the architect as sculptor. The two abstract cubes, connected below ground and housing a congress center, auditoriums, shops and restaurants, were conceived as a way to change the fabric and geographical character of the surrounding buildings. It has become the "true political and cultural heart of the city," he said.

In developing his design for a science building at Columbia University, Moneo said it was important "not to think of it as a singular building," but to respect the campus design of McKim Mead and White, who designed the university's Morningside Campus in 1897 (not to mention several important buildings at U.Va., including Old Cabell Hall). The new building occupies one corner of Columbia's campus, with buildings on the street side and courtyards within. Moneo's solution links the old campus to its urban setting and provides a gateway for pedestrian traffic to the university's newer Manhattanville Campus to the north.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal recognizes Moneo's body of work as an architect, and he demonstrates his own passion for acknowledging history while creating something new. He was the first Spanish architect to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often referred to as the profession's highest honor, in 1996.

– by Jane Ford

Mitchell Praises Rule of Law as Key to Free Society

George J. Mitchell, a former U.S. Senate majority leader and peace negotiator in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, spoke Friday at the Law School, telling students that they will play an important public role.

"Lawyers play a special role in American society in the preservation of liberty and the protection of individual rights," he said. "So the education you're receiving here is important for you individually, but also for the future of our society."

He praised the efforts of the nation's founders in crafting the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, and for achieving independence in self-governance.

"From the very beginning, our ideals distinguished our nation," he said. "And they instantly, and to this day, continue to appeal to people around the world. Our economic strength and our military power, which have now become overwhelming, are necessary and important. But our ideals are, and always have been, the primary basis of American influence in the world. No American should ever forget that the United States was a great nation long before it was a great military or economic power."

American ideals, he said, include sovereignty of the people; primacy of individual liberty; opportunity for every member of society; and an independent judiciary enforcing the rule of law, applied to all citizens and the government.

"There is, of course, a never-ending tension between the preservation of order and the rights of the individual," he said. "That is especially true in these dangerous times, when it can be difficult to find the right balance between collective security and individual liberty."

Mitchell challenged the students in the audience to work toward making the 21st century an era in which the nation's ideals and the rule of law are upheld.

"The 21st century may be like so many in history – a time of war, of injustice, of oppression, of famine," he said. "But it could also be a time when the dominant power uses its strength carefully and commits its people and its prestige to a great and noble vision – a world largely at peace, with the rule of law and freedom, education, opportunity and hopefully prosperity, extending to more and more people in our country and throughout the world."

Prior to his appointment to the U.S. Senate in 1980, Mitchell served as a federal judge in Maine. That position, he said, was the only job he ever held that had any actual power.

"The majority leader of the Senate only has the opportunity to go around and beg people to do things that they ought to be doing without being asked," he said. "When I chaired the peace talks in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, I had no power to tell anybody to do anything. But when I was a federal judge, I had the authority to order people to do things, and I'm pleased to tell you that, in every instance, they followed it to the letter. I really loved that part of the job."

– by Brian McNeill

Mathews: Only a Popular Movement Can Fix Deeply Broken Washington

Speaking to a crowd of more than 200 on Monticello's West Lawn, Jessica Tuchman Mathews made the case that Washington's political gridlock is not a transitory phenomenon, but actually the result of a fundamentally broken system, deeply corrupted by money. The sweeping changes needed to redeem Washington and restore America's capacity to respond to major challenges will only happen if citizens demand such changes, she said.

Citing a major slump, since 1980, in the public's trust in Washington, and Washington's inability since then to make significant progress on three major national problems – energy policy, health care and rapidly rising economic inequality – Mathews said, "Simply put, I think this country is rapidly losing, or perhaps has lost, the capacity to address the major challenges that face it, other than military threats from abroad."

Although several trends have contributed to Washington's brokenness, including a changing media landscape that emphasizes conflict, the root of Washington's dysfunction is the pervasive influence of money, Mathews said. "We are spending more and more to elect governments we like less and less," she said, citing a 50-fold increase, from 1974 to 2010, in the total cost of congressional campaigns. The huge sums that lobbyists funnel to ever-hungrier campaign war chests "massively distorts Congress's attention, priorities and legislative outcomes," she said.

These problems are so deeply entrenched that fixing Washington will require something more significant than "incremental reform to a fundamentally sound system."

"By no one's choice, our political system, I believe, has walked itself into a cul de sac, from which there is no easy escape," she said.

The changes needed must be driven by citizen activism, as happened with America's popular movements for civil rights, women's rights and environmentalism, she said. Unlike the recent Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements that have coalesced around strains of populist outrage, but have done little to propose reforms, the grassroots movement that America needs "must know what it stands for," she said. "To be a great power, we need a government able to do more, not less; willing and able to tackle major issues like the environment, cybersecurity, climate change, health care reform and rebuilding a world-class transportation system."

Fortunately, America has lots of resources to draw upon, she said. "We have strong institutions, deep respect for the rule of law, an educated populace, deep love of country, a great tradition of volunteerism and philanthropy, the world's greatest capacity for innovation and, most important, a system that has historically been able to absorb rapid change better than any other in the world."

However, economic pain weakens those resources and makes people fearful of change, looking to the past rather than future, "so we don't have an indefinite amount of time to work on this," she said.

Mathews wrapped up her remarks by quoting Jefferson: "No man has greater confidence," he wrote, "than I have in the spirit of the people. ... Whatever they can, they will."

She concluded, "So it is up to us. We can and we must."

– by Brevy Cannon