Revamped Fine Arts Café Incorporates U.Va.'s Sustainable Ethos

January 31, 2008 — When the renovated Fine Arts Café reopened at the end of last semester, students and faculty in the University of Virginia's School of Architecture received a new dollop of design with their on-Grounds dining experience.

The café, located on the first floor of Campbell Hall, was redesigned by associate professor of architecture Judith Kinnard and represents a joint effort by the school and U.Va. Dining to implement concepts of environmental sustainability at the University.

"The project started out as a bit of a recycling project, because we took an existing space and worked with it as much as we could," said Kinnard, who was asked to design the facility as part of a series of improvements under way at Campbell Hall. “The flooring is recycled rubber. The chalkboards along the wall were recycled from a classroom that underwent demolition" and will be used to showcase student artwork.

Along with the new space came a revamped menu that includes local and organic ingredients, a development Kinnard felt was an important aspect of the renovation.

"Certainly, the School of Architecture is committed to sustainable design,” Kinnard said. “In the café, this manifests itself in decisions about the architectural space, but also in choosing the foods that are served and the packaging and utensils that are used."

This move toward eco-friendly dining is something that U.Va. Dining executive chef Tom Fiammetta, who developed the new menu, hopes to continue at other University dining facilities.

“We looked at it as a jumping-off point to start our green thread at U.Va. Dining,” Fiammetta said. “Fifty to 60 percent of the menu is organic.”

Along with serving organic chicken and vegetables, the café also offers locally raised beef and fair trade, eco-friendly coffee. Signature menu items include rice bowls with brown rice and beef, chicken or locally produced tofu, as well as a selection of wraps. All the service products used at the café are recyclable or made from recycled materials.

Both Fiammetta and Kinnard noted that students were actively involved in producing the environmentally responsible menu. "Toward the beginning of last semester, when it looked like we would be finishing up, we started working on the menu again,” Kinnard said. “Students were active in requesting the use of local and organic foods."

U.Va. Dining officials meet with students every two weeks to brainstorm ways of incorporating sustainability into on-Grounds dining options. One result: an all-organic salad bar recently opened in Runk Dining Hall, featuring produce grown at The Farm at Red Hill, located a few miles south of Charlottesville.

The principal purpose of renovating the Fine Arts Café was to provide a meeting place for members of the arts community.

“We are trying to create a place for students to relax away from the studios and classrooms,” Kinnard said. "When the studio art building is finished, this will be a place where theater, studio art, and School of Architecture students and faculty will be able to gather." Though these will be the primary patrons of the café, students, faculty and staff from all parts of the Grounds are welcome to dine there.
Fourth-year architecture student Violette de la Selle said that the renovation has been well-received by students.

“I think that we are all very happy to have a place to eat nearby, and the food selection is generally very popular,” de la Selle said. “As students in design, I think we all really appreciate the intervention in the building to create a nice-looking space. We are proud of our faculty. It’s nice to have a little specimen of their work around. It is definitely an improvement all around.”

Kinnard’s future plans for improvements to the café include the addition of a translucent, polycarbonate wall to further divide the kitchen from the dining area, which would allow the space to remain open for student use even when the café is closed.

— Written by Catherine Conkle