The Hopeful Return to Jefferson’s Laboratory

rotunda corrected

As we have come to know “transduction” as a comfortable comparison between the many disciplines of thought in the 21st century, so arises the need for a reciprocal space to experience these ideas and a provision of tools to materialize them. The twenty-one thousand enrolled students lack a common ground to exchange their research, and forty-four thousand Charlottesville residents lack an interface to engage the University as a collaborative whole. Could the most celebrated architecture on grounds be used to crown the cooperation of the disciplines as a shifting, growing base of knowledge and action?

The Rotunda has the potential to be the ideal transducer between the scholastic, the local, and the professional stakeholders in Charlottesville. For many years since its induction to a long list of World Heritage sites, the grand pavilion has been gradually reduced to a stage setting. Originally operating as a library, classroom, and laboratory, the Rotunda was once a proud connection to the greater world outside the academical village. It was a hub of incoming news and resources, and a place of exposure and exploration. Impending renovations intend to return the Rotunda to its place as the center of academic and student life, but perhaps the modern notion of the library should be reimagined first.

At the University of Virginia, there are an impressive thirteen libraries that operate on grounds, each attempting to maintain a particular catalogue for their audience. However, as more texts exist on a shared electronic network, the physical media of a segregated archive becomes a limitation in the exchange of information. The quantity of information is rarely the obstacle of the academic, it is the quality and presentation that earns respect. A new kind of library might function more like a museum, with a carefully chosen, rotating collection of media. And from all the media available, why not proudly present the discoveries generated within the University for all to see? The knowledge created by universities should be tapped and organized proudly in such an arena, and the reflections will resonate among the curious and determined.

Rotunda evolution
As more information becomes available to the public, the benefit of the University will be the tools it provides for metabolism and digestion of the archive. Among the many inquiries, ‘How do you do?’ has never been more relevant. Beyond the typical role of the library, the forum and the factory ought to be made available to students brave enough to test their imagination to its realization. Here, methods of generating results, or transmitting signals are practically compared and contrasted.

As it stands, the Rotunda houses lectures, dinners, and tours, but hardly encourages lingering or belonging. There is an air of reservation and delicacy that limits the dedicated use of the space. Besides moments of animated habitation, the space in no way reflects the current state of the university or its innovations. The taxidermied halls seem more a tomb than a beating heart to the school, and even the books upstairs are locked behind glass.

In the past two centuries, the building has operated not only a functioning library, but has harbored (at least) a gymnasium, emergency water reservoirs, chemistry laboratories, and travelling galleries. A great annex, since burned to the ground, once decorated the north facade and doubled the available classroom space. By Jefferson’s designs, the dome room was intended to be America’s first planetarium. Many of these amenities were granted by necessity, but now that the school has so expanded, it is hard to believe that this awesome space stands as an empty shell for office space.

As academia turns from a competition to a conversation, the new renovations will be the first step toward an indispensable medium for exchange that will unite the many colleges and distribute the diligent discoveries of the academic village. The current disciplines are too proudly segregated and specialized, both geographically and spiritually. To be a physical database updated in real-time, and to offer the best tools available will provide service not only to the student body, but to the greater Charlottesville community. It will require a repurposing of a precious artifact, but also a reinvigoration of a time-tested machine.

Convenience of cooperation, trust in the curation, and sharing of encyclopedic resources will characterize a new period of human development. A reimagining of objects, examples, and tools for uses beyond their designed intentions will be critical in the mixing of many types of creative process.

Report by McCutcheon Morecock