UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA                                                                                                          GROUNDS PLAN                                                                                                          OFFICE OF THE ARCHITECT




Mid-Century:  Managing Postwar Growth

The expansion of the student population, the increasing complexity of decision-making, and the growing importance of science presented the main challenges for planning under the presidencies of Colgate Darden, through the 1950s, and Edgar Shannon in the 1960s and 1970s.  The development of the University under Darden took two tracks: refocusing activity inward toward the Lawn so that the Central Grounds would be re-activated, and expanding the engineering and physics departments to capture the interest of potential students and the influx of Federal funding sparked by the Cold War.  The re-focus on Central Grounds entailed a number of different steps:

Several restoration projects returned attention to the Lawn.  A Tree Committee was responsible for planting dozens of new trees on Grounds.  The West Pavilion Gardens were renovated by the Garden Club of Virginia under the supervision of Colonial Williamsburg’s landscape architect, Alden Hopkins; the Warren Manning gardens were replaced with Colonial Revival designs intended to be more in keeping with what might have been present during Jefferson’s time.  The East Pavilion Gardens were similarly renovated in 1964. A project for the restoration of the Rotunda to the “Jefferson arrangement” was begun, and, from 1949 onward, an important function of the Lawn was restored when a representative faculty member from each of the six schools resided in the Pavilions.

Pavilion VII and Gardens

As part of an effort to organize the movement of pedestrians and vehicles, and to keep student activity oriented towards Central Grounds, a new multi-story hospital building, begun under Darden but not underway until 1958, was sited with the entrance facing Jefferson Park Avenue, rather than inward toward the Academical Village.  With the new building, the Hospital, always a public/private enterprise, resolutely turned its face to the community, effectively re-routing the public traffic that had come through the University Grounds along Hospital Drive, a vestige of Manning’s plan.

New Hospital Building (photograph by Ralph Thompson, 1962)

The new wave of students was accommodated by development of the southwest precinct through three major building efforts--the McCormick Road dormitories, Newcomb Hall, and New Cabell Hall--new residential, social and academic buildings, respectively.  Started in 1950, the McCormick Road dormitories were built to accommodate the growing post-war student population, many of whom had been housed in temporary trailers on Copeley Hill.  The project required grading the topography of the former golf course to provide a level site for the complex of eight symmetrical L-shaped buildings framing interior courtyards, pedestrian paths, and terracing.  The increasingly important parking and vehicular access was pushed to the south, east, and west periphery.

McCormick Road Dormitories

Newcomb Hall, originally envisioned under Darden’s predecessor, John Newcomb, but finished during Darden’s administration, was intended as a student center to accommodate the post-war influx of  students, providing an alternative social framework to the fraternities and secret societies that had been in place at the University from the mid-nineteenth century, and had come to dominate student social and residential life.

New Cabell Hall was built to provide more classroom space within close proximity of other academic functions, facilitating student activity and circulation between classes.  This addition was seen by some as foreclosing the possibility of the restoration of Jefferson’s open view form the Lawn.  Its design, like that of Newcomb Hall, sited a substantial portion of the building below the Lawn ground plane, moderating its scale so as not to overshadow the ensemble of the Lawn.

Newcomb Hall, 1963
New Cabell Hall (photograph by Ralph Thompson)

The University’s roads continued to emerge as critical planning features.  McCormick Road had become a major circulation route as development proceeded at its western end.  In the 1930s, Emmet Street was extended south and a bridge was constructed to allow McCormick Road to pass over it, facilitating further development of the West Grounds, particularly in the science precinct. Beginning the late 1940s the McCormick Road was straightened to bring its western extension into alignment with the Jeffersonian grid.  This facilitated further development of the West Grounds, but created a long-term impact to the Grounds that has never been resolved.
The 1950s also saw the expansion of the mechanical, chemical, and civil engineering departments, in part as a result of unprecedented funding and growth during the Cold War.  Physics, having outgrown its quarters on the Lawn due to both enrollment pressures and technological change, was also to receive a new building.  At this time, modern architecture was seen by many as the proper expression for science departments.  The University struggled with questions of style during the planning of the new Physics building in the early 1950s, ultimately settling on a classically-inspired design.  By the 1960s however, Gilmer Hall, the new Life Sciences building, would be designed in a Modern style.  At the end of the 1950s, a new master plan for the 25-acre area south of McCormick Road indicated the University’s intent to continue the development of this area well into the 1960s in a comprehensive way.  Urban planning theories that emphasized vehicular circulation and resultant demands for parking began to have more influence on campus development, and these ideas found their way into University planning.

Outside the University, the impact of Brown v. Board of Education was felt immediately.  Forced to accept public school desegregation, Charlottesville became embroiled in a campaign of massive resistance, led by then Governor Byrd from 1955-58.  Several white public schools closed rather than accept the Supreme Court’s decision.  Vinegar Hill, a neighborhood comprised mostly of African American businesses located just west of downtown Charlottesville, was adjacent to the all-white Lane High School that was under pressure to desegregate.  In the 1960s, this neighborhood would be eradicated through Federal and local urban renewal funds, but it was the school desegregation conflict in the 1950s that first targeted this historic neighborhood for destruction.

During this time, the University was also the subject of a number of attempts at desegregation, beginning in 1950 with an application to the Law School, which was denied by the Board of Visitors.  Walter Ridley, the first African-American graduate, received a doctorate of education in 1953; the first African-American undergraduate matriculated in 1955.  Slow accommodation to change eventually led to 25 African-American students being admitted to the College by 1960.   The full force of social change, however, would not arrive at the University until the next decade.  As an example, women were not formally admitted to the University until 1970.

Under Edgar Shannon’s administration, planning efforts begun under Darden were sustained.  Given increased demands for data, analysis and discussion, the University produced a series of master plans, studies, and reports.  The first major report of this new planning phase, the Report of the Long-Range Planning Committee (1961), focused on projecting space usage based on the continued growth of the student body.  Underlying this task was the larger question of whether the University would continue to grow with the state’s growth, thereby changing its character markedly, or would cap its enrollment and preserve its culture.  The Committee ultimately came down on the side of growth but identified several issues, including parking and vehicular circulation, beyond the traditional problems of classroom and dormitory space that would have to be addressed immediately.

In 1963, the firm of Sasaki, Dawson, Demay Associates, Inc. (SDD), was contracted to produce a master plan for the University’s growth.  The SDD master plan suggested that the University capitalize on the existing development and organize growth around five “Teaching Centers,” and a “University Center” in the Newcomb-Alderman area.  Conceptually, the Sasaki plan encouraged functional relationships among buildings, creating building density within a “10-minute walking radius” of the University Center, and connecting the Centers through the McCormick Road corridor.  The plan argued for a “greater emphasis on the street as a pedestrian way and for a gradual de-emphasis on its general vehicular use.”  As planned, vehicular circulation and parking would be pushed to exterior ring roads and eventually be completely removed from the Grounds.  SDD also suggested that the Copeley Hill area be set aside for residences, athletics, and fraternities.

By 1973, when SDD released a new master plan, two major tracts of land had been acquired by the University for development: the Duke Property in 1963, adjacent to Copeley Hill, and the Birdwood Estate in 1966.  Sometime in the late 1960s, the Law School, Judge Advocate General’s School, and the Graduate School of Business Administration had been persuaded to abandon their proposed new building sites on West Grounds and relocate to the Duke Property, now re-named North Grounds.  In addition, enrollment had grown rapidly, to nearly 13,000, and was expected to reach 16,000 by 1980.  Where the emphasis in the 1963 plan had been on creating cohesion and infill, it was now on dealing with the increased growth of enrollment.  The new study replaced the plan of the 10-minute radius around functional centers with multiple centers or small “villages” with mixes of recreation, residential and academic activities.  The specialized, decentralized University would have three major centers--North Grounds, Central Grounds and Birdwood--linked by a common focus on “the linear street.”  The Birdwood center, physically removed from the Grounds at large, would be planned on a residential college model, a mixed-use village that had roots in the original Jeffersonian conception of a self-sufficient village.  Ultimately, the Residential College idea for Birdwood would fail due to student resistance and changing financial priorities, but it would be reborn again in the 1980s, and fail again for many of the same reasons.  Birdwood was perceived as simply being too far away to be part of regular University life.

Development Plan, SDD, 1965
Development Plan, SDD, 1973

In the relocation of the Law, JAG, and Business schools to North Grounds, the University was again part of a national movement among campus planners to manage growth pressures by building satellite campuses away from the core institution.  Many universities struggled with problems of connectivity and equal distribution of resources between primary and satellite facilities.  Ultimately, a number of campus planning models emerged during this time, several of which are in evidence in the University’s development during Shannon’s tenure.  Sasaki’s “activity street” echoed urban planning models that saw the campus as a mall or city in which a mix of people interacted.  Often these models were implemented at urban or community colleges.   Other campuses in more rural settings, such as UC Santa Cruz, experimented with landscape-based residential college models that sought to maintain an intimate, rather than urban, scale.  The debate between planning models--the infill/density model of city planning and the insulation/separation model of the residential college--would continue into the 1980s and 90s.

1974 aerial of the recently completed Law, Business, and JAG complex (top)