Jun 25, 2010

U.Va. Board of Visitors Gives ‘Thumbs down’ to Dining Hall Design

In the middle of a spirited budget debate during which the University of Virginia agreed to a $2.4 billion operating budget, the U.Va. Board of Visitors (BOV) voiced surprisingly harsh criticism of a proposed design for the expansion of Newcomb Hall.

A project estimated to cost between $16 million and $18 million, the dining hall renovations include a two-story entry with a skylight which university architect David Neuman referred to as a “new portal” for the University. But the Board wasn’t so sure.

The new façade for the west side of Newcomb Hall is at the heart of what U.Va. insiders refer to as “Central Grounds” and is among the first buildings many visitors—including prospective applicants—see when they emerge from a nearby parking garage. The architects for the project proposed to replace 30- and 40-year old additions and bring the entire structure into the 21st century.

Board members, however, criticized the design as “vanilla, institutional-looking” and generally not reflective of the Jeffersonian “neo-classical” architecture of surrounding buildings. “I just don’t think it says ‘University of Virginia,’” complained board member Robert Hardie, adding that it looked “heavy” and disconnected from the rest of the building.

The objections renewed a long-running discussion about whether U.Va. founder and chief architect Thomas Jefferson would approve of deviations from the look he originally designed. The BOV is evidently sensitive to the University’s image and found the design woefully short on Jeffersonian ideals. So the plans will return to the drawing board.

In the meantime, interior renovations to Newcomb will go forward. Presumably our third president wouldn’t object to those.

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