ONARCHITECTURE- UVA BOV POV: Buildings not Jeffersonian enough, again?

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Architects

In what is beginning to seem like a scene in the movie Groundhog Day, designs for two planned buildings at UVA have been sent back to the drawing board by the Board of Visitors' Building and Grounds Committee for not being Jeffersonian enough. 

As you may recall, the same thing happened when architects first presented designs for the South Lawn project– now taking shape over Jefferson Park Avenue– to the BOV and other UVA brass. In fact, in a widely disseminated e-mail from Adam Daniel, associate dean of arts and sciences, the exterior design of the new building by Polshek Partners was not considered appropriate– it didn't look "Jeffersonian" enough. In short order, UVA parted ways with Polshek and handed things over to Moore Rubel Yudell. At the time, Polshek's lead architect on the project, Tim Hartung, seemed puzzled by the decision.

"We would like to think that we were selected because there was a desire and a hope to do something different and more modern," he told the Hook.

While the BOV's concerns about the new $165.2 million Information Technology Engineering Building and the Arts & Sciences Research Building, which are being designed by Pittsburgh-based Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and will both be located near the football stadium off of Whitehead Road, are relatively minor, they appear to be consistent with a desire to make sure all buildings at UVA share similar design elements. 

However, if ever a building at UVA deserved a more modern design, the Information Technology Engineering Building would seem to be it, as research in computer science and information technology would seem to represent the future. In addition to advanced research on robotics and information cataloging, researchers are also working on tele-medicine technology that would enable doctors and surgeons to treat patients remotely.

BOV Rector W. Heywood Fralin says the committee saw the exterior designs for the two buildings for the first time last Thursday. The Hook contacted each member of the committee, hoping to get their thoughts on the designs, but one-by-one they deferred to Fralin.

"It's not unusual for questions to be raised about elements of the design at this early stage," said Fralin. "Board members asked the Architect for the University to consider adjustments to the roof design and develop a more symmetrical window pattern similar to other UVA structures."

According to a Cavalier Daily story on the meeting, Fralin said the designs didn't "look up to the architectural standard," and he appeared worried that the two new buildings would be so close to the football stadium, where they would be seen by thousands of visitors. In addition, Board member Don Pippin was the one who raised concerns about the roof design, which he considered too flat. 

Asked if the BOV's take on the design rubbed his firm the wrong way, lead architect Jon Jackson was diplomatic.

"At this early stage of development some design revisions to address the comments of various stakeholders is normal," Jackson said.  

University Architect David Neuman, who is overseeing the project, reminded board members that the design complied with the "qualitative guidelines the Board had prescribed," according to the Cavalier Daily and asked that the BOV consider the fact that modern concerns about things like sustainability called for a more modern design approach, i.e. flat roof designs.  

But Fralin promises that the BOV's concerns about the flat roof design and the symmetry of windows won't stall the project.

"The work is proceeding," he says. " And we don't expect this to impact the construction schedule."

Belly up to the BAR 

In BAR, or Board of Architectural Review, news, members voted 4-2 to approve the mural of Barrack Obama over his local campaign headquarters in the old A&N building on the Downtown Mall, which city officials had said violated city code; approved 6-0 a request by lingerie store Derriere de Soie, which will be moving into the store front at 105 East Main Street, to spruce up the façade and awning, and furthermore approved 6-0 a conceptual design approach to restoring all the façades between 101 and 111 East Main Street, which building owner Keith Woodard has finally decided to repair.

BAR Vice chair Syd Knight voted against allowing the Obama mural, saying he was concerned about fairness and "establishing a precedent we might come to regret," but the majority felt it did not violate city code, which treats signs and murals differently.

"The temporary nature had a lot to do with approval," says Knight, "as did the fact that even if we denied the application, they could have legally hung the same mural in the window anyway."

As for Woodard's long-awaited façade renovation, Knight says the preliminary plans were well-received by the board.  

"The plans are sensitive to the architecture of the original buildings and the rest of the Mall, so that will be a big improvement over the current versions," says Knight, who says that Woodard is also in the process of applying for federal tax credits for the rehab work. "That means he'll also have to meet the Secretary of the Interior's standards for rehab, which are pretty stringent," says Knight.