UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA                                                                                                          GROUNDS PLAN                                                                                                          OFFICE OF THE ARCHITECT




Towards the 21st Century:    Re-Considering the University in Context

In the last decades of the twentieth century, continuing needs for growth and the legacy of past efforts to meet these needs confronted the University with several other challenges: sustaining the connection between center and periphery; solidifying the relationship of the University and the surrounding community; and preserving the unity of the University’s core landscape and buildings, an assemblage increasingly honored on a national and global stage.  It became clear that the goals of University planning included managing potential conflicts and working to bring together potentially disparate components--and that achieving these goals required attending to the various contexts within which it operates.

The planning of the North Grounds complex followed the national trend toward suburbanized satellite complexes that were oriented towards accommodating parking and vehicular traffic.  In addition to the physical distance between North Grounds and other parts of the University, the complex illustrated the challenges the suburban model presented to interaction amongst its community (in this case, the three schools), to visual focus, and to interconnectivity of pedestrian links and parking.  University efforts to create sites with greater inner coherence, mediating between the satellite model and the infill model, included the planning of small specialized colleges within the existing Grounds to serve a small portion of the student population.  Monroe Hill College (later Brown College) and Hereford College sought to provide self-sufficient residential and academic “villages” modeled on the original planning and pedagogical concepts behind the Academical Village.  The University also pursued a number of additions and infill projects that supported the move toward greater density during this time, notably Bryan Hall and additions to Newcomb Hall, Monroe Hall, and Gilmer Hall.

Bryant Hall (photograph by Rebecca Arrington (1995)

After an initial plan to move the entire Medical Center to the historic Blue Ridge Sanatorium site failed in the 1980s, the University embarked on the most ambitious funding campaign that had thus far been attempted.  The replacement Hospital, budgeted at $189 million, funded through both legislative and private sources and with multiple phases and components, would locate University facilities south of Jefferson Park Avenue for the first time.  As designed, the hospital and related medical school and health sciences buildings built up a dense, urban-scale edge on either side of Jefferson Park Avenue. This interface between the Charlottesville community and University was very different from the student-faculty residential fabric that characterized the Rugby Road and JPA neighborhoods north and south of the Grounds. Other large projects, such as the Stadium expansion, went through a similar process in consideration of relocating them to outlying areas of the Grounds closer to the bypass for access.  With the exception of the North Grounds development, the University consistently made the decision to keep the facilities close in through infill when such options arose.

The 1980s saw a number of important changes in the relationship between the University and the City, County, and local citizens. In response to community pressure, the University entered into a dialogue with its neighbors about the nature, extent, and economics of growth.  Three important changes came out of this dialogue.  In 1986, the Three Party Agreement between Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and the University codified a pact to coordinate planning and growth among the three agencies.  Secondly, the Planning and Coordination Council (PACC) was established to provide a forum for these discussions.  Lastly, the University agreed to set up a foundation to manage its real estate activities.  Unlike the University, as a private entity the UVA Foundation (UVAF) was required to pay taxes on its holdings and was subject to local land use and permitting processes, which satisfied the concerns of the City and County.

Three Party Agreement Areas A, B, and C

Adjacent neighborhoods were also demanding more tools to protect their environs from encroaching development.  Escalating conflicts over the Gooch-Dillard and Sprigg Lane dormitories, as well as the new hospital, required new procedures of communication and accommodation.  One of the most effective instruments for defending the character of adjacent neighborhoods was survey and nomination for the National Register as historic districts.  Although non-binding, historic districts provided a frame for local preservation ordinances; the Board of Architectural Review was established to control and guide development in these districts.  The Rugby Road/Venable neighborhood received its first National Register Nomination in 1983 and was quickly followed by the Wertland Street (The Corner) neighborhood.  Several other neighborhoods throughout Charlottesville have utilized this tool to record and protect their architectural and landscape resources.

One of the most significant transformations in the University’s planning endeavors was the growing local national recognition of the Academical Village as a historic site, and an equally significant call for appropriate preservation measures.  The Rotunda had been recognized as a National Landmark since 1966, and in 1983, that designation was extended to the Academical Village.  In 1983, the position of the Curator of the Academical Village was created, which has since been incorporated into the Office of the Architect. In 1987, the University applied for and received World Heritage Site status along with Monticello.  An additional shift in support of Grounds stewardship was the creation of the Office of the Architect (OAU) in 1992, establishing a separate planning function from Facilities Management in recognition of the Board of Visitor’s increased involvement in planning and design issues.  While the OAU evolved in its role and responsibilities during the 1990’s, it currently has a robust staff addressing planning, architectural, landscape architectural, historic preservation/conservation and facilities planning for the University.

In 1986, the landscape architecture consultant firm EDAW released the Historic Central Grounds Landscape Study.  The study, along with the recent preservation efforts in the adjacent neighborhoods, brought attention to the historic fabric as an ensemble rather than as a series of buildings.  The importance of landscape and open space to understanding Jeffersonian planning principles enriched the University’s evolving preservation framework for the Academical Village.  The recognition of landscape as an historic element in the University’s built fabric adds another layer to the continuing debate over planning paradigms.  

In 1990, the consultant firm of Sasaki Associates (SA) produced a new master plan for the University, following on the two earlier plans prepared in 1965 and 1973.  Recognizing that “The Grounds as a whole are arranged as a necklace of academic, residential, and recreational uses, albeit segmented by a web of busy urban arterial streets,” SA recommended infill balanced with careful consideration of open space as the way to unify and clarify the campus, and emphasized returning to the original Jeffersonian axes as a planning framework.  These tenets were furthered in a Landscape Master Plan for the campus developed by the consultant firm Ayers Saint Gross in the late 1990s, which emphasized the concept of the “Groundswalk”, a continuous pedestrian spine linking the precincts and uses throughout Grounds and recognizing the importance of the landscape setting.  

In a sense, two planning models--vitality through urban density and secluded residential colleges--have been under discussion for the majority of the University’s life.  What planners today refer to as mixed-use development remains very close to the original Jeffersonian conception of the Academical Village.  In recent years this model has found popularity again at the University.  Contemporary planners understand that Jefferson’s mixed-use precept of the Academical Village model cannot be repeated or expanded per se, but rather extended and re-envisioned.  The Academical Village itself may not be infinitely scalable, but the idea behind it is.  Attempts to expand or extend the Academical Village model have in some cases resulted in sprawl that divides the University’s resources geographically and psychologically.  Subsequent attempts to mitigate this trend have led to infill development partially bridging some of the gaps.  This has resulted in loosely associated precincts, each with a different personality and all vital to the character of the University.  The Grounds Plan provides a framework to guide future development that will knit these precincts together more coherently and use the University’s resources more effectively.