The cluster of buildings known as the South Lawn dramatically extends the University of Virginia in a new direction across the old Lynchburg Road, now Jefferson Park Avenue. Initially, Thomas Jefferson’s design for the Lawn ended with Pavilions IX and X and a dramatic view of the mountains to the south. He intended for more buildings to be added on either side of the Lawn as the university expanded, but that the view should remain open. Despite his vision, in the 1890s the south end vista was closed with new structures designed by McKim, Mead and White (Old Cabell, Rouss and Cocke Halls), and then in 1952 with the addition of New Cabell Hall on the north side of Jefferson Park Avenue, designed by Eggers and Higgins.
The expansion across Jefferson Park Avenue had been in development for nearly a decade, but it was not until 2008 that the project got underway with a scheme by the California firm Moore Ruble Yudell, founded by the late Charles Moore, a leading thinker and designer of architectural Postmodernism. Assisted by Glaserworks and landscape architects Cheryl Barton and Walter Hood, this addition was completed in 2010 as an extension of Jefferson’s design ideas with a Postmodernist twist.
A 100-foot-wide concrete pedestrian bridge with grass along its center connects the Central Grounds with the South Lawn Project across Jefferson Park Avenue; it terminates at an open semicircular colonnade-like structure intended as a “Commons” area that allows views to the mountains to the south. The axis shifts to the east with a large curving wall of glass flanked on each side by large, red brick “pavilion” fronts that give access to Nau and Gibson Halls. These buildings house the departments of the Arts and Science College along with auditoriums, student study spaces, computer labs, classrooms, and faculty and administrative offices. The four-story academic halls are designed in an abstracted classical idiom with contrasting red brick and white concrete, semi-Doric columns, and square holes for the entablature. The Commons building, with its three-story glass walls, contains a cafe and lounge areas. Nau and Gibson Halls enclose a smaller lawn two levels down that is extensively planted with native Virginia species similar to the pavilion gardens on the Lawn. The end of this lawn provides a view of the hills where Monticello stands. This is among the University’s first LEED-certified projects.
The South Lawn was once known as “Canada” and was home to a Black community whose members worked at the University during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1833, a free Black woman named Catherine “Kitty” Foster, a seamstress and laundress at the school, purchased land here and built a residence that was occupied by her descendants until 1906. In the early 1990s, when the nearby area was paved for a parking lot, twelve graves were discovered, along with artifacts and what is presumed to be the cellar of Foster’s residence. An additional twenty graves and other artifacts were uncovered in 2005 during preparations for the South Lawn Project. Although there were no headstones, the graves are believed to include those of Foster and her descendants. Today, this area has been set aside as a one-acre park memorializing Foster and other residents of Canada. The landscape architects preserved the footprint of Foster’s house as a polished aluminum structure atop a trellis that casts its shadow. The cemetery is surrounded by a low stone wall, and a portion of the original cobblestone walk has also been preserved.
Ford, Benjamin P., “The Foster Site,” Charlottesville, Virginia. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 2016. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Kelly, Matt. “Foster Home, Cemetery Remembered with Memorial Park.” UVA Today (University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA), November 10, 2006.
Wilson, Richard Guy, David J. Neuman, Sara J. Butler. The Campus Guide, University of Virginia. 2nd ed. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2012.