University of Virginia Breaks Ground on South Lawn Project

September 29, 2006
Sept. 29, 2006 — University of Virginia dignitaries, alumni and friends broke ground today for a long-anticipated complex of buildings and grounds that will extend the axis of Thomas Jefferson’s original Lawn across Jefferson Park Avenue and will reinforce the atmosphere of community that characterizes the U.Va. student experience.

The South Lawn Project groundbreaking followed the April 7 approval by the Board of Visitors of schematic drawings for the project’s first phase, and the completion of a $41 million milestone for raising private money in support of the project on June 30.

The groundbreaking took place shortly after the University's Board of Visitors publicly launched the $3 billion campaign.

Edward L. Ayers, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, spoke of the connections that the project made possible — both within and beyond the University community.

“It is so exciting to have a chance to connect all the things that the South Lawn project has a chance to connect,” “This gives us a chance to connect the University to the Charlottesville community and to the neighbors here who have really welcomed this project in a way for which I’m very grateful.

“It’s wonderful to have a chance to connect to the African American history, which has been neglected and even buried for so long. One of the things that I’m most excited about is the wonderful acknowledgement of that history that we’ll be able to do on the South Lawn,” Ayers said. “It is going to be wonderful to tie together our students and faculty in a way that our current facilities simply do not permit. It’s wonderful to be able to tie together the generations who have become us who are making this possible for all the generations that follow us.”

During the program, Ayers opened an envelope that contained a $1 million pledge from the Seven Society, one of the University’s secret honor societies.

In addition to Ayers, remarks were made by three members of the College Foundation who have been instrumental in the fund raising for the project —Jeffrey D. Nuechterlein, president of the College Foundation of the University of Virginia; John L. Nau III, past president of the College Foundation and vice chair of the Campaign for the University of Virginia; and David E. Gibson, trustee emeritus of the College Foundation.

Nau cited the need for the facilities in order for the University to achieve its goals. “Our graduates have always been leaders in their communities and in our country. Today we begin a new step to ensure that this long tradition continues,” said Nau. “We will be proud of these facilities as they will reflect Jefferson’s ideas regarding the relationship of faculty and students and open space and the ability not just to learn but to communicate.”

President John T. Casteen III described the project as “creating another version of our community.”

“This project,” he said, “extends the architectural vision of the University’s Academical Village. The way in which that happens is partly physical, partly spiritual, partly intellectual.”

The South Lawn Project is the most ambitious undertaking on the University’s Central Grounds in a century, the South Lawn Project extends University of Virginia founder Thomas Jefferson’s architectural vision both physically and conceptually, creating a carefully orchestrated ensemble of classrooms, common spaces and landscapes that together form a cohesive academic community.

In Phase I, a 95-foot-wide pedestrian terrace across Jefferson Park Avenue will connect the South Lawn with Central Grounds. At the south end of the terrace, a plaza containing a circular fountain that echoes the shapes of the Rotunda and Old Cabell Hall will sit atop a Commons building containing a 250-seat lecture hall. A three-story, glass-walled conservatory will enclose lounge spaces and a café. Two buildings flanking the Commons will provide new homes for the departments of history, politics and religious studies. Together, these buildings and grounds will accommodate 12,000 student visits each day.

The firm of Moore Ruble Yudell of Santa Monica, Calif., serves as architect for the project. Landscape architects for the project are Cheryl Barton of San Francisco and Walter Hood of Oakland, Calif.

Phase I of the South Lawn Project is projected to cost $105 million and will result in 109,000 gross square feet of additional building space. It is also targeted to receive the University’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for achieving high standards of energy efficiency, sustainability in site planning, water protection, conservation of materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

The landscape plan will include a public garden at the site of the Foster family home and burial ground that will interpret the archaeological features and recognize the history of the former African American community called “Canada” that once existed in that area of Charlottesville. There will be several outdoor terraces, courtyards and gardens where groups can gather for class discussions or quiet conversations. Former stream courses will be interpreted to manage storm water. Native Virginia plantings will predominate in the landscape design.