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intcvlcphlga

Architecture at the University of Virginia since Thomas Jefferson

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For those of you familiar with the Grounds at the University of Virginia, you no doubt know about Thomas Jefferson's Lawn. The Lawn is widely regarded as one of the most important pieces of architecture ever built in the U.S and it has served as a model for campus design from coast to coast. The United Nations has named it a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site. In a misguided attempt to honor Jefferson's masterpiece, the University's administration and Board of Visitors have repeatedly commissioned buildings which deny the lessons of Jefferson's architecture and instead force the hands of the architects building new structures by seemingly only requiring as much brick and as many white columns as possible. I'm interested in seeing what readers of Urban Planet have to say about the professors' open letter:

http://64.233.161.104/search?q=cache:zFSJI...COMMUNITY&hl=en

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The new designs largely miss the point of Jefferson's original architectural intentions, but the designs of the '60s and '70s were so horrible that the BOV had to avoid disfiguring the campus further.

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The new designs largely miss the point of Jefferson's original architectural intentions, but the designs of the '60s and '70s were so horrible that the BOV had to avoid disfiguring the campus further.

While the several of the buildings of the '60s and '70s are less than desirable, it's really the architecture of the '80s and '90s that have been the most offensive. Specifically, Robert A.M. Stern's Observatory Hill Dining Hall and his new campus for Darden, the new Aquatics/Fitness Center, etc. Stern's design for Darden is the most grievous example of missing Jefferson's point and, sadly, it was chosen over a much more competent scheme proposed by Charles Gwathmey. The only strong piece of architecture on grounds in the last couple of decades is Tod Williams and Billie Tsien's Hereford College.

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While the several of the buildings of the '60s and '70s are less than desirable, it's really the architecture of the '80s and '90s that have been the most offensive. Specifically, Robert A.M. Stern's Observatory Hill Dining Hall and his new campus for Darden, the new Aquatics/Fitness Center, etc. Stern's design for Darden is the most grievous example of missing Jefferson's point and, sadly, it was chosen over a much more competent scheme proposed by Charles Gwathmey. The only strong piece of architecture on grounds in the last couple of decades is Tod Williams and Billie Tsien's Hereford College.

I thought Stern's Observatory Hill and Darden campus were strong, but Hereford College is quite nice as well.

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I thought Stern's Observatory Hill and Darden campus were strong, but Hereford College is quite nice as well.

While I obviously agree with you on Hereford College, Stern's buildings at UVa are probably regarded with the most disdain among the architecture school's professors, students and alumni. In the majority of architectural academic circles beyond just UVa, Stern's architecture is consistently derided and Darden holds a special place amongst the worst of his projects. When the president of Yale named him dean of the architecture school (against the wishes of the faculty), the students protested and threatened a walk-out. In my personal experience with him, he's not as bad of an academic as he is an architect. He has actually had a reasonably successful tenure at Yale thus far because he has not attempted to impose his design philosophy on the curriculum (unlike the shellacking the grounds at UVa have taken from his design sensibilities) and he is very open to a variety of influences (Peter Eisenman, Greg Lynn, etc) and is willing to pay to get them to teach there.

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Stern's most famous work is essentially Postmodern, which is largely out of style in current architectural circles. Despite the derision recieved when one's work is not fashionable, Stern is a more than competent architect, in practice and as an academic.

I think that history will prove that Stern's work was not that bad in the grand scheme of things, much like the work of Graves, Kahn, Gaudi, and Lapidus, all of whom have spent their time in the architectural doghouse over the years.

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I don't think history will judge him favorably because while his work is Postmodern it would be difficult to argue that he really contributed much to that school of thought. His work has primarily been historicist and stylistic rather than theoretical or polemical. Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, etc, on the other hand, were instrumental in defining the Postmodern movement in architecture. Gaudi was an architect who defined a whole region and zeitgeist in Spain as, to a lesser extent, did Lapidus in NY and Miami. And, Kahn was an architect who deserves to mentioned in the same company as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, etc. Their contemporary counterparts would arguably include Rem Koolhaas, Bernard Tschumi, Herzog & de Meuron, etc. in whose company, both architecturally and academically, Stern would never be included.

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I don't think history will judge him favorably because while his work is Postmodern it would be difficult to argue that he really contributed much to that school of thought. His work has primarily been historicist and stylistic rather than theoretical or polemical. Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, etc, on the other hand, were instrumental in defining the Postmodern movement in architecture. Gaudi was an architect who defined a whole region and zeitgeist in Spain as, to a lesser extent, did Lapidus in NY and Miami. And, Kahn was an architect who deserves to mentioned in the same company as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, etc. Their contemporary counterparts would arguably include Rem Koolhaas, Bernard Tschumi, Herzog & de Meuron, etc. in whose company, both architecturally and academically, Stern would never be included.

That's harsh. Stern's work does invoke histricsism to an extent, but to write it off as solely derivative is unfair. That is akin to labeling Richard Meier or Frank Gehry as hacks because other architects took their stylsitic cues and and used them more fashionably.

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Sigh...

The acedemic world of architecture, for some reason, is monopolized by professors who think that innovation is the true measure of architecture, and pay zero regard to the vast accumulated knowledge of hundreds of years of pre-modern building. Instead, they promote a cult that exalts the "cutting-edge," even as the last hundred years of modern building has shown that the avant-garde is shallow, transitory, and ultimately meaningless.

It is the ignorance of the past and blind faith in innovation and experimentation that gave the world the hideous, universally hated buildings of the sixties and seventies, and now give us the current glut of trendy buildings (by Ghery, Holl, Koolhaas, etc.) ,which in short time will be recognized to be just as hideous and reviled.

Although the elite don't acknowledge it, they have completely marginalized their own profession, and forfeited the respect and trust of the public thanks to the Modern movement. Decades of monstronsities in the name of modernity is why UVA's marketing group has taken over the reins on campus architecture. And the acedmics have the gall to whine about it? Please, you dug your own grave, people.

BJE

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It is the ignorance of the past and blind faith in innovation and experimentation that gave the world the hideous, universally hated buildings of the sixties and seventies, and now give us the current glut of trendy buildings (by Ghery, Holl, Koolhaas, etc.) ,which in short time will be recognized to be just as hideous and reviled.

The problem with that argument is that it ignores that tastes change over time, and always have. Yes, the architecture of the sixties and seventies is generally hated today, but when those buildings were going up, earlier modernist styles (Art Deco, Prairie, etc.) were likewise criticised. They were seen as meek, incomplete attempts at modernism. Yet today, those buildings of the early 20th century are generally accepted as good architecture. Further, those buildings were a reaction against the historicist styles of the preceding Victorian era, which are considered masterpieces today. This trend can be followed almost without exception to at least the early the nineteenth century, when the picturesque romanticism of the Italianate and Gothic revival styles replaced the restrained Classicism of the Federal and Greek revival styles. It seems that every generation despises the architecture of the preceeding generation, while generally accepting earlier work.

You can see this in today's historic preservation movement, which is beginning to push for saving early International Modern buildings. That would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but as more and more of these "reviled" buildings are demolished or altered beyond recognition, those that remain intact are receiving new attention.

I see no reason to expect this trend to stop anytime soon. Therefore, today's "trendy" architiecture will inevitably fall out of favor before long, only to be replaced by the next 'big thing.' However, it is premature to write it off as bad architecture simply because it is a trend, and a departure from tradition. Every architectural style in history has received similar criticism by its contemporaries.

Furthermore, I disagree that the avant-garde is "shallow, transitory, and ultimately meaningless." On the contrary, themes and ideas explored first by avant-garde architects eventually trickle down into the vernacular. The latest group of "celebrity" architects may not have broad popular appeal, but more "acceptable," watered-down versions of their work will likely become very popular in the coming years. Without the avant-garde, architecture as an art form would cease to exist.

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