Wednesday, November 19, 2014

UVA Architecture Students Re-Imagine VCCA

WG Clark, the Edmund Schureman Campbell Professor of Architecture at the University of Virginia and a revered architect has assigned his studio students VCCA as their project this term.

When you think about it, an artists’ community is the perfect subject for architecture students, combining as it does both living and working areas on a large scale. So it’s no surprise that Clark has assigned VCCA before. But this time, he added a twist by moving it to the heart of Philadelphia. This is purely hypothetical; there are no plans to move VCCA into Philadelphia or any urban setting. The board and staff are well aware of the value placed on VCCA’s pastoral setting by its Fellows!

Clark’s view of an urban creative crucible is informed by his love of Philadelphia, the city where he began his career, working for Robert Venturi. In addition to its metropolitan charms, Clark also greatly admires William Penn’s benevolent vision of a city of brotherly love.

At the beginning of term, Clark and his studio travelled to Philadelphia to inspect sites. Since then they have been working hard to realize their ideas of an urban VCCA. Their final designs will be unveiled in December.

At the preliminary review, most students stuck with a unified plan. One student exploded the boundaries, placing individual studios throughout the neighborhood with artists convening for breakfast and dinner at a centralized residence hall. His purpose was to promote artists interacting with the city on their way to and from their studios.

My favorite design had an interesting metal skin covering the fa├žade employed to shade and redirect the light that would flood into the southern facing structure. It sounded plausible, but I wonder how it would work. To me, it looked like it would block the light out completely, but aesthetically it was beautiful with an edgy sculptural effect.

It was interesting observing people’s preconceived notions about art. That all sculptors work with heavy materials in large scale and painters don’t need a lot of space, for instance. Here at VCCA our visual artists’ studios are off by themselves (mostly) with the writers and composers grouped in quietude elsewhere.

VCCA Resident Artist Barbara Bernstein also attended the review and made a number of insightful and interesting points. It certainly aided the students understanding to hear impressions from an artist’s perspective.

Clark's work has been widely published and is the subject of Richard Jensen's book, Clark and Menefee. He was included in "40 under 40" by the Architectural League of New York and twice listed in Time magazine as one of America's best designers. His work has received three National Design awards from the American Institute of Architects: Middleton Inn, Reid House and Croffead House.


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