The Board of Visitors’ Building and Grounds Committee heard updates on the architectural design of the Karsh Institute of Democracy, discussing conflicting opinions surrounding its architectural consistency with other buildings across Grounds at its meeting Thursday.
University Architect Alice Raucher presented an update on the architectural design of the Karsh Institute. This update included the initial designs for the Karsh Institute as a building covered in white building material with floor-to-ceiling windows, a lobby featuring an oval staircase, and a large auditorium.
Announced in June 2021 by University President Jim Ryan, the Karsh Institute of Democracy aims to study the teaching and promotion of democracy. The Institute was created thanks to a $50 million gift from the Karsh family, which was matched by the University for a total $100 million.
Raucher said the building is designed to both complement and accentuate various architectural features of the Academical Village in form and function.
“While the Academical Village might be considered introverted focusing on the academic activity of the Lawn, realizing harder sighted solidly in the City of Charlottesville has the opportunity and intention to be extroverted, incorporating community encouraging collaboration between buildings and disciplines,” Raucher said.
Raucher said the central lobby, oval stairwells and external window columns will complement the University's design and architectural principles, while at the same time remaining distinct. Cost estimates for the building, which is expected to be completed in 2026, are being developed and were not presented during this meeting.
Board member Bert Ellis said that he does not think the building plans are not architecturally consistent with the rest of the University, adding that the design and materials were not similar with other buildings across Grounds, specifically citing the red brick used in many other buildings.
“It just has nothing to do with the University of Virginia,” Ellis said. “There is a way to make this blend in and look like the University of Virginia building.”
Ellis was appointed by Govenor Glenn Youngkin over the summer and has drawn criticism from Student Council, University Democrats and Virginia Democrats for his role in bringing a eugenicist supporter to Grounds and denying a co-sponsorship with the Gay Student Union in bringing a gay rights activists to the University.
Lily Roberts, student member of the Board and fourth-year Architecture student, said she is in favor of the designs for the building.
Roberts said that Jefferson’s intention of having the Academical Village serve as both a site for education within the classroom as well as provide stylistic education should be taken into consideration when thinking about the Karsh Institute.
“This schematic design that we’re looking at right now … 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 of democracy, but also about design,” Roberts said. “I believe that this building does communicate [that].”
Members Carlos Brown and Elizabeth Cranwell expressed that the design felt harsh, mimicking concrete government buildings. While there was no vote on matters of architectural design, several Board members requested designs that incorporate the University’s iconic red brick, while others were in favor of Raucher’s.
Finally, the Committee approved modifications to the Olympic Sports Center in order to increase economic efficiency as costs continue to rise due to inflation. The Olympic Sports Center will mainly offer strength and condition facilities and is phase three in the Virginia Athletics Master Plan and is estimated to completed in September 2025.
Raucher’s design for the Karsh Institute is not final and she will share designs again when the Board meets in March of 2023.