Choosing Between Lies

Growing up in Charlottesville and living on the University of Virginia grounds for 5 years of my childhood, I never noticed much about the UVA landscape as a whole except that it felt relatively cohesive. That’s what the architects at UVA have been going for, after all, for generation after generation as the school expands and new buildings are built to accommodate growing enrollment. To visitors to the university, and even to those growing up within its bounds, it feels like a singular place. People love how the place feels.


Those newer buildings erected in a Jeffersonian Classicist style, however, are decidedly historicist and “mediocre” (as Bluestone writes in “Captured by Context”). They mimic the buildings on the lawn in a decidedly false manner. Is that ok? Would it qualify as “lying” like Boito asserted? And if it is lying, is the deceit actually all that bad if it creates an environment that people continue to love and return to, year after year?


Lying to create a cohesive landscape seems less problematic than the kind of lying Dan Bluestone exposes in the construction of Cabell Hall. If Jefferson intended his “Academical Village” to foster earthly and agrarian education by consisting of a rotunda and a lawn with pavilions on either side, looking out to the rolling Virginia hills, then the blocking of those views with a huge building seems to be a bigger lie than that of mimicking his architecture in new construction.


This brings up an enormous question, then. Is preserving built fabric or an architectural style more important than preserving the intention of a landscape? UVA was designed with an intentional landscape and a widely heralded architectural style. The style has won out, with the intentionality of the landscape largely lost. Given the practical problems of growing student enrollment, that trade off could easily be argued as a necessary one, but not without loss of an idea that I would argue deserved preservation too.


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