U.Va.'s South Lawn Is Ready for New School Year

August 21, 2010

August 20, 2010 — The University of Virginia's South Lawn is open for business.

The $102.5 million, 116,000-square-foot project extends from the Central Grounds across Jefferson Park Avenue, and is the most ambitious extension of the Lawn since the turn-of-the-20th-century additions of Rouss, Cocke and Old Cabell halls.

While a formal dedication is scheduled for Oct. 22, parts of the complex opened in January, 11 months ahead of the entire project's scheduled completion date. The buildings contain offices for the Corcoran Department of History, the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics and the Department of Religious Studies.

"The new buildings are as spectacular as they are useful," said Meredith Jung-En Woo, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. "The College's faculty in History, Politics and Religious Studies are settled in and ready to begin teaching in the buildings’ state-of-the-art classrooms this week."

A 100-foot-wide pedestrian terrace spans Jefferson Park Avenue, linking the South Lawn to Central Grounds. At the south end of the terrace, a circular plaza sits atop a commons building, with an exterior stairway leading down to gardens.

"The terrace is an extension of the Lawn," University Architect David Neuman said. "It gives the University community access across the street, but it does not feel like a bridge."

The commons building contains lounge spaces and a café with three-story glass walls. The glass walls are framed by two west-facing porches that serve as entrances to the perpendicular wings of the complex.

Those wings, Nau and Gibson halls, run east and west and house faculty offices, classrooms, student lounges, computer labs, administrative offices, conference rooms and meeting rooms.

The buildings have a southern exposure, permitting more light in during the cold months. Awnings and overhangs shade the windows when the sun is high in the sky, Neuman said.

The South Lawn was carefully aligned with the Rotunda and was sited to provide the view that Thomas Jefferson would have had from the Rotunda before it was blocked by the construction of Cabell Hall, said Neuman, who emphasized that the new buildings are not in competition with the Rotunda.

Jeffrey W. Legro, chairman of the politics department, said the new facilities are student-friendly, as well as providing good space for graduate students.

"There is space for faculty collegiality, and it provides room for students to mix with faculty as well as bring together students who share interests across disciplines," Legro said. "Everyone is excited to get into a space where the faculty members are close to one another and near classes, in modern facilities for the faculty to pursue its scholarship and research."

The landscaping contains a garden area, echoing the pavilion gardens in Jefferson's original Academical Village. A small stream and a pond slows and retains stormwater. The stream originates on Grounds, but Neuman did not know if the stream will run year-round.

The project also preserves as a one-acre park the homestead of Catherine "Kitty" Foster, a free black woman who lived on Venable Lane near the University from 1833 to 1863. The house's footprint is outlined by shadows cast by an overhead structure, and a nearby – and previously unmarked – 32-grave cemetery is outlined in local stones.

The project architects are Moore Ruble Yudell, of Santa Monica, Calif., and Glaserworks, of Cincinnati. The landscape was designed by Cheryl Barton of San Francisco and Walter Hood of Oakland, Calif. 

U.Va. is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – or LEED – certification for the building to mark its environmental, economic and health and safety benefits. 

Gibson Hall is named for David E. Gibson, a 1962 alumnus of the College of Arts & Sciences and a 1965 alumnus of the School of Law and a former executive vice president of Citicorp/Citibank. Gibson is an emeritus trustee of the Darden Foundation for the Darden Graduate School of Business, a founding sponsor and emeritus trustee of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and a trustee of the Miller Center Foundation for the Miller Center of Public Affairs. A former senior vice president and division head for Citibank, Gibson is retired and running a farm in Orange County.

Nau Hall is named for John L. Nau, who received a bachelor of history degree from U.Va. in 1968. He is a past president of the College Foundation of the University, served on the executive committee of the University's national capital campaign, was chairman of the College of Arts & Sciences campaign and served on the board of managers for the Alumni Association. He has served on many national historical panels and commissions. He operates one of the nation's largest beer distributorships in Houston.

— By Matt Kelly