UVA Board of Visitors panel endorses design for Karsh Institute

At the June 13, 2023 meeting of the Charlottesville Planning Commission, we learn from Bill Palmer of the University of Virginia’s Office of the Architect that one project in the Emmet-Ivy Corridor is moving forward.

“The Karsh Institute of Democracy building design was approved so you can go on to the website to see what that looks like,” Palmer said. 

Or you can continue reading this story as we head back now to the June 2 meeting of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. Alice Raucher is the Architect of the University of Virginia and sets the context.

“The site until most recently was a low-density commercial area with more curb cuts than sidewalks,” Raucher said. “It’s bordered by the railroad tracks to the north with the athletic fields beyond that, commercial property to the west, and our international residential colleges and the houses of the Lewis Mountain neighborhood to the south.” 

The Karsh Institute is one of three buildings currently identified in the Emmet-Ivy Corridor with the Virginia Guesthouse and the School of Data Science being the others. There will be an ampitheater in front of the School of Data Science whose steps will lead to a pond. 

A photo of the Emmet-Ivy corridor under construction (Credit: University of Virginia) 

The Buildings and Grounds Committee had previously seen the design for the Karsh Institute of Democracy in December. In setting up the conversation, Raucher repeated that its construction provides an opportunity to echo the past. 

“There’s a wonderful parallel with the fact that the Rotunda was completed in 1826 and the Karsh Institute will be completed in 2026,” Raucher said. “Clearly we want a design that speaks to Democratic ideals and promotes health debate and discourse far into the future.” 

Raucher explained how the design would fit into architecture associated with Jefferson including the eclectic design of the buildings on the Lawn. 

“We also considered how one reads the Lawn with a layer of brick behind a screen of warm, white columns in the foreground,” Raucher said. “We also considered that the language of the architecture for the Lawn is not consistent but there’s an evolution of Jefferson’s designs with Pavilions IX and X from Pavilions I and II for instance.” 

In December, several members of the committee pushed back on the lack of brick in the design at time. Raucher said the architectural team Höweler+Yoon took those comments to heart and made some changes.

“As one reads the Rotunda as a brick drum behind a facade of white columns and under a white drum dome, we’re proposing that the drum of the auditorium of the Karsh Institute as red, a red warm figure behind a screen of the white column facade,” Raucher said. 

Rather than brick, the building would be clad in wood panels stained to match the red brick of the Rotunda. However, there would be white brick in the base rather than limestone as depicted in the December design. 

“We feel that that the use of brick grounds the building to the site and the pattern adds texture, warmth, and a bit of human scale,” Raucher said. 

The changes had the support of the committee’s chair.

“The introduction of brick in this area I think really makes the building very warm,” said Robert Hardie. 

The changes did not gain the support of committee member Bert Ellis. 

“I think it’s a beautiful building but it has no relationship whatsoever to the architecture of the University,” Ellis said. “If you planted this building somewhere else, no one would know it was the University of Virginia.” 

Another member said the building would be divergent from Jefferson’s design and that there would need to be a written explanation of what the design means. 

Board Member Thomas A. DePasquale said he appreciated the changes that had been made.

“There seems to be no shortage of buildings that have gone up with red brick,” DePasquale said. “As you look at the Rotunda-like features in the distance, I think you’ve done a tremendous job here and you have 100 percent of my support behind it.” 

The Committee approved the design with Ellis the lone vote against. 

The Committee also approved the schematic design for the new energy plant to be built to support expansion of the Fontaine Research Park. The plant will use geothermal energy. 

“This will be our first zero-combustion fossil-fuel free energy plant on Grounds,” Raucher said. 

The Karsh Institute of Democracy will be right across the street from 2117 Ivy Road, the only privately held property in that section of Charlottesville. The develop is seeking a rezoning to planned unit development. More on that in a future edition of the program. 

A rendering of the Karsh Institute as it  might appear when serving as a western anchor for the Emmet-Ivy Corridor (Credit: University of Virginia)

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