Open Spaces, Open Minds
September 20, 2015
Between the buildings, in the gardens, and on the Lawn—this is where some of the finest thinking and innovation occur, where minds are refreshed, friendships are forged, and creativity blooms. These uses are a vital reflection of Thomas Jefferson’s design for the Rotunda and Lawn, where gardens and open spaces “afford the quiet refreshment of mind so friendly to study.”
The Jeffersonian Grounds Initiative is preserving and expanding this vision. The effort is revitalizing the Rotunda’s landscaping and gardens, ensuring they remain inviting, beautiful, safe places for contemplation and community.
Led by celebrated landscape architect and Jefferson Medal in Architecture recipient Laurie Olin, landscape renovation will focus on the Rotunda’s front-facing north terrace and “bookend” courtyards. Building on Jefferson’s notion that gardens are essential for expansion of the mind, Olin envisions the new landscape as a place where people will come to think, socialize, and relax.
To achieve that magnetic pull, the courtyards will center on fountains with moving water ringed by lush flowerbeds and benches, offering an inviting balance of respite and stimulus.
In reimagining these outdoor spaces, Olin said he worried less about contemporary opinions of his designs and more about how Jefferson and Stanford White might regard them. “Jefferson is the hero of American architecture. To do work in conjunction with his architecture is challenging. He was my ghost critic.”
The north terrace, designed for more active purposes, will add space for practical and ceremonial use—such as staging for Final Exercises—and feature new benches and flowering trees, introducing a new color palette to the Rotunda.
In all, the simple beauty and serenity of these spaces will be a verdant tribute to the many friends and donors who have put great investment and belief in Jefferson’s vision for an academic institution dedicated to “the illimitable freedom of the human mind.”