Buildings and Grounds Committee debate lack of brick in proposed Karsh Institute of Democracy

Future Darden Hotel gets two names

The Buildings and Grounds Committee of the University of Virginia’s governing body met last week and considered several items of business. The first was to approve the suggested name of the new hotel that is under construction at the Darden School of Business. Or rather, two names. 

“The proposed formal name is Frank M. Sands Sr. Hotel at Darden and Conference Center for Lifelong Learning,” said Alice Raucher, the University of Virginia Architect. “There will also be a proposed marketing name which is the Forum Hotel which will be used in partnership with Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants which has been selected as the hotel operator.” 

Sands died in 2021 and had made a $66 million gift to Darden in May 2019, the largest in school history to date. His son, Frank Sands Jr., is on the Darden School Foundation’s Board of Trustees and is currently vice chair. 

The B&G committee also reviewed changes to the Athletics Complex made up of several different components between Central and North Grounds around the site of the now-demolished University Hall. This complex includes a relatively new indoor football training facility. The complex also anticipated a new Olympic Sports Center. 

“And as we were developing the drawings for Olympic sports, we were facing ever increasing construction costs due to inflation and we made some changes to bring those costs down,” Raucher said. 

These changes included reducing the size of the lobby and alterations to the exterior. The committee had no objections with one member saying she thought it was an improvement. 

An updated aerial view of the UVA Athletics Complex which will include a $75 million Olympic Sports facility, though the lobby will no longer be as big. (Credit: University of Virginia)

Raucher then gave updates on the Emmet-Ivy Corridor, where the former Cavalier Inn and other buildings were demolished to make way for the University’s future. Construction is underway on both the new UVA hotel and conference center and the School of Data Science. Raucher presented the schematic design for the Karsh Institute of Democracy.

A view of the current schematic design for the Karsh Institute for Democracy (Credit: University of Virginia) 

As the University approaches its bicentennial in 1826, architectural firm Howler + Yoon are seeking to create something that captures the spirit of its founding to prepare for 2226. 

“How do we design for the next 200 years?” Raucher asked. “What will continue to resonate? Clearly, we want a design that speaks to democratic ideals, promotes health debate and discourse far into the future.” 

Raucher said the task force that informed the Emmet-Ivy Corridor directed a design to be one that would be open to the public as well as people associated with the University. 

“As the design of the Academical Village was aesthetically innovative for its time, looking to the ancient past for the design of the Rotunda and to the future for the last Pavilions IX and X, the Emmet-Ivy Task Force to offer physical expression and immersive experience of the University’s global identity as a forward-looking institution at the leading edge of design, innovation, experimentation, and impact.” 

The lobby for the Karsh Institute for Democracy will include bleacher seats for presentations. A highlight of the space is a 425-seat auditorium with tiered balconies that Raucher said would still mean that smaller gatherings would feel intimate and warm. 

A concept for the interior of the lobby of the Karsh Institute of Democracy

Raucher said there will be common colors throughout the buildings that seek to emulate what can be found elsewhere on Grounds. The exterior of the Karsh Institute itself is included. 

“We’re proposing to clad it in a warm, white material that ties it into the overall palette of Grounds,” Raucher said. “Both the School of Data Science and the hotel incorporate this color into its palettes. The main portico of Data Science is in the same Swiss Coffee paint color that we use on the Lawn as are the pre-cast panels on the Hotel and Conference center which denote special functions.” 

Raucher said UVA is seeking the highest level of LEED certification to help the institution meet its sustainability goals. You can view all of the details in the presentation. The committee did not take a vote on the design, but will do so in March after committee feedback. 

Where’s the brick?

There was some opposition to the design which incorporates limestone rather than brick.

“The building is a beautiful building,” said Bertram Ellis of Atlanta. “It just has nothing to do with the University of Virginia and I totally object to designing something that is going to be.”

Ellis said he felt the Athletic Complex buildings did look as if they were part of UVA. 

Others were more supportive. 

“I thought that the structures around and the stairs and all brought so much message to me that I saw it differently,” said Thomas DePasquale of Washington D.C. “I think you have to be very careful when you go away from the palette. On the other hand, I don’t know how many red brick buildings you need to say it’s UVA, but maybe. 

The student member of the Board of Visitors said the original Academical Village was intended to educate students about architecture and included details of different types of building styles. 

“If we’re thinking about it into the next 200 years, we also have to think about upholding Mr. Jefferson’s legacy of teaching, not only about the ideals about democracy, but also about design,” said Lily Roberts. “And I believe that this building does community that.”

Dr. Stephen Long of Richmond asked if it would be possible to include some element of brick in the next version of the design. 

“Perhaps the base instead of the limestone, being a red brick to tie in the modern, to tie in the columns, to tie in the fluidity, and perhaps making an assimilation and a connection with 2226 and with 1826 so we have a little bit of red brick preserving the past?” Long asked. 

Raucher said the architectural team could take a look at incorporating brick in some way, but the idea had been to make this building distinctive.

“I think the point of this was to let it sit apart from the red brick context,” Raucher said. “Everything we are doing on the Emmet-Ivy Corridor is red brick.”

The schematic design of the Karsh Institute of Democracy within the context of the Emmet-Ivy Corridor (Credit: University of Virginia)

Louis Haddad from Charlottesville, the committee’s vice chair, said the University should not squander an opportunity to make a statement for the future. He’s the CEO and President at Armada Hoffler Properties

“All I know is, you don’t get these opportunities often,” Haddad said. “I’ve had three going on forty years and I just want to make sure we don’t blow it by comprising one way or the other.” 

Whit Clement of Richmond, the UVA Rector, had a positive opinion.

“I happen to like the building,” Clement said. “These are the same architects that did the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers.” 

President Jim Ryan also weighed in. 

“Took me a while to come to it but I really like it,” Ryan said. “But I also admit to liking brick… And I get the point about not compromising but if you could play around with it a little bit and have a nod.” 

L.F. Payne of Charlottesville said conversations about architecture have always been a staple at the University of Virginia. He noted the committee was meeting at the Rotunda. 

“And you only have to sit in this room and look around and realize that architecture and UVA really are important to each other and know that Jefferson is considered the father of American architecture so I think we have a big responsibility here as the Buildings and Grounds Committee and as the Board to make sure that when we build a building like this, an iconic building, that we get it right.” 

Payne said he felt the design did qualify as embodying Jefferson’s style and spirit. 

Carlos Brown of Richmond, however, called the design Brutalist, a style from the mid-20th century known for minimalism and stark depictions of structure over decoration. 

“The windows don’t do that, but brutalism is not, it’s not Jefferson,” Brown said. “That’s just my initial reaction. I feel Brutalist. I don’t feel elevated cathedral. I don’t feel like this is the temple of democracy. I feel like it’s 1970’s corporate.” 

Another view of the schematic design for the Karsh Institute of Democracy (Credit: City of Charlottesville)

Amanda Pillion of Abingdon said she would like to see a rendering that included brick, but said she did like the building. She did want all of the new buildings in the new precinct to be cohesive with the past. 

“And I would hesitate to become like a lot of other schools where they have their beautiful central grounds and they don’t even take you to see the rest of it on the tour because it’s so different,” Pillion said. “I do think it is important to try to do what we’re good at tie everything in.” 

Raucher said there would be more options developed before it comes back to the Buildings and Grounds Committee in March. 

More from the Board of Visitors meetings in future editions of Charlottesville Community Engagement

What will the rest of the Emmet-Ivy Corridor look like as it develops? Only three of the many future buildings have been programmed as 2022 comes to a close.

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the December 13, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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