Vortex kickoff: speaker highlights
The fourth edition of The Vortex – U.Va. Architecture’s ambitious, all-school design workshop – began Monday with a strong emphasis on a sense of place. Featuring speakers ranging from public officials to community outsiders, from distinguished alumni to current professors, The Vortex Kickoff in Culbreth Theater highlighted The Vortex’s importance on several scales.
Dean Meyer: “What if we imagine a new type of public space and residential life at UVA?”
Elizabeth Meyer, the Dean of the School of Architecture, opened the Vortex Kickoff with an introduction reminding us of our own architectural context - that we teach and learn in an institution that was founded by an architect. Thomas Jefferson’s aspiration is “manifest in the Academical Village.” She then followed with the assertion that Jefferson’s radical vision of a unified residential education must continue to be applied today: “What if we imagine a new type of public space and residential life at UVA?” In 2013, Dean Meyer, Prof. Daniel Bluestone, and Prof. Bill Sherman wrote an important position paper on the timely need for better residential housing on the UVA Campus.
U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan: “We are all stewards of this place.”
Teresa Sullivan, U.Va.’s President, substantiated this idea of contextual importance by pointing out that the traditional gateways of U.Va. have changed, necessitating a renewed focus on the reality of our space, not its historical hypotheticals. “We need new and fresh ideas, and there is no better place to turn to than our own students” she said, expressing her admiration of 2015’s Vortex title Common Spaces for an Uncommon Academical Village: “It says something about the obligation that we all share as stewards of this place, to plan thoughtfully the future of a university that is recognized widely as a global treasure.”
Genevieve Keller, visiting professor of Architectural History, took us through the historical journey that has resulted in U.Va.’s current residential geography. She expressed pride and excitement in the certainty that Vortex 2015 “considers and embraces complicated and interrelated issues… issues overlaid by a historic transportation corridor and a cultural landscape.”
Manuel Bailo Esteve, professor of architecture, continued along this vein by calling attention to the salient collaborative nature of an exercise that is not only school-wide, but community-wide as well. He conveyed his enthusiasm for Vortex to be “the opportunity of the school to open the doors, to explain what we are doing in the school, to share what we think.”
Julia Monteith, Senior Land Planner of U.Va.’s Office of the Architect, inspired us with a concise timeline of precedents on U.Va.’s own grounds, showing what could have been done, what has already been done, and what is in the works for the future.
Tim Rose, CEO of the U.Va. Foundation spoke about the foundation’s role in “land banking” and reminded us of the infinite possibilities of an intentional design, stating: “I do think that the opportunity to go from the banal to the sublime in this corridor is very exciting.” He also mentioned the demolition of six business and restaurants along Ivy Road – including Panda Garden.
Gay Perez, Executive Director of Housing & Residence Life, discussed the recent data and survey of undergraduates living on campus. Currently, approximately 42% of undergrads live on grounds; second year and students above have the choice in living arrangements which will become an important facet of policy decisions in the future. Perez meaningfully reminded us that the human scale is central to the purpose of the Vortex: “Residential experience is the cornerstone of human experience.”
From the words of these compelling speakers clearly emerged the two goals at the core of Vortex2015: to engage students and faculty in collaborative work, without the limits of scale or logistics, aimed towards improving the physical environment; and to address the place where we live while also developing a critical approach that refuses to remain complacent about previously-accepted ideas.
Though almost abstract in its infinity of solutions, the Vortex powerfully forces us to consider questions that are very, very real: What type of everyday common spaces would enrich the student experience? Could we extend and strengthen the University’s distinctive residential culture? What if the University helped shape our collective vision of a 21st century academic community? Can decisions made during this exercise speak to a broader discourse on the power of design to change how we live?
Ambitious, indeed. Here’s to another incredible Vortex: a week of collaboration, of intensity, and of innovation. We can’t wait to see what you create.
- Sam Manock (B.S. Arch 2016)