Industrial strength: UVA Art's new home off the Range

Ruffin Hall plan by Schwartz and Silver Architects
Ruffin Hall plans by Schwartz/Silver Architects

By Laura Parsons

If you haven’t driven on Culbreth Road recently, you’re in for a visual shock. Where once an empty hillside overlooked a little-used amphitheater, a 560-space parking garage now looms. Meanwhile, the former paved lot in front of Culbreth Theatre has transformed into a not-quite-grown-in grassy lawn sloping up to a massive three-story brick building jutting with angular skylights: Ruffin Hall, the University of Virginia’s studio art department’s impressive new digs (cue the “Moving on Up” theme song from The Jeffersons).

After being evicted from Fayerweather Hall during its renovation, the art faculty squatted in what were essentially tin shacks behind the Curry School for several years. So, the shift into a $27 million building specifically dedicated to art production, with studios designed to meet individual professors’ particular teaching needs, is a dream come true.


Like any new building, Ruffin’s reality needs a few tweaks and adjustments. Chief among them: remedying more than 50 leaks that sprang forth during late August’s heavy rains. Plus, there are equipment issues. Mechanized computer tables stand wrapped in plastic in the second-floor hall, waiting to head back to the factory, because the digital lab’s state-of-the-art monitors are too large for the tables. Elsewhere, a giant hood intended to absorb fumes from printmaking processes involving nitric acid, currently has a yellow legal-pad page taped to it with “Do Not Use” scrawled in red.

Visiting artist Clay Witt jokes that he’s started calling Ruffin’s sub-contractors “sob contractors.” Nevertheless, he’s quick to point out the building’s strengths outweigh its temporary flaws. “Look at the light!” he says enthusiastically gesturing in the gargantuan third-floor painting studio.

“Whatever problems we have, they’re all fixable,” says department chair Larry Goedde. “It’s just an inspiration itself to be in this building.”

Ruffin’s interior aesthetic is decidedly un-Jeffersonian and industrial chic, with cement-block walls, poured concrete floors, and girders and pipes crisscrossing the ceiling. Huge glass-paneled garage doors roll up on the papermaking and sculpture studios on the ground floor, and lounge areas boast clean-lined Herman Miller furniture.

On the third floor, a welded metal pocket door opens onto Ruffin Gallery, a venue with soaring walls. The gallery’s inaugural exhibition premiers September 22, with a public reception September 26, and features woodcuts by Finnish artist Annu Vertanen and Nebraska-based artist Karen Kunc.

With their move into Ruffin, the UVA studio art faculty seems to have finally gotten a piece of the pie.


For more information about lectures, exhibitions, and other events at Ruffin Hall, contact UVA’s McIntire Department of Art. 924-6123.