New Contemplative Commons Will Enable Collaboration, Experimentation

Digital drawing of the Contemplative Commons

An architect’s rendering of the planned Contemplative Commons, to be built near the Dell on Emmet Street. (Courtesy Aidlin Darling Design and VMDO Architects)

The University of Virginia today announced plans for an innovative building on Grounds designed to bring students and faculty from different schools and disciplines together, foster collaboration and experiment with new ways of teaching and learning.

The new space, called the Contemplative Commons, will be a return to UVA’s roots.

Students, faculty and subjects were housed together in the original Academical Village. The Lawn was designed as a place for students to interact, and the walkways between pavilions were meant to encourage faculty members to engage with one another. As the University grew, schools and departments built their own facilities, to the point where almost all the academic buildings on Grounds today belong to a particular school. The result is a built environment that sometimes makes it hard for students to collaborate.

Along with the new School of Data Science – which will be both independent and integrated with other schools – the Contemplative Commons is envisioned as a 21st-century answer to the problem of academic isolation.

The building itself, which will be located adjacent to the Dell on Emmet Street, will sit within easy walking distance of eight schools, but will be owned by none of them. It will provide open, highly adaptable spaces that can be configured to accommodate small and large groups, workshops and lectures, research and physical activity.

Once complete, the space will encourage collaboration and partnership, as well as a closer integration of the academic experience with personal well-being. Artistic performances, activities like dance and yoga, and networking opportunities will exist alongside teaching and research in an environment that focuses on experiential learning.

The Commons will expand on the work currently being done by UVA’s Contemplative Sciences Center, which was founded in 2012 and is led by David Germano, professor of religious studies in the College of Arts & Sciences.

“No other site on Grounds will so faithfully correspond in design and intention to Thomas Jefferson’s vision for the original Academical Village – to deeply connect the University community in life, learning and research through integrated natural and built environments and spaces for both intense collaboration and quiet reflection,” Germano said.

UVA President Jim Ryan said he believes the Commons will improve the student experience and break down existing barriers.

“Our goal is to prepare our students both to be successful in their careers and to lead meaningful, satisfying lives once they leave here,” Ryan said. “That’s what the new Contemplative Commons is designed to do – providing space for students and faculty from different schools and disciplines to work together, and helping them thrive outside the classroom as well.”

Ryan expressed gratitude to Paul Tudor Jones II and Sonia M. Jones, whose $40 million gift will fund part of the Commons. The Joneses previously donated $12 million to establish the Contemplative Sciences Center.

For more information, visit the Contemplative Commons website.

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