In Northern Virginia, natural and historic beauty is abundant. Northern Virginia is rich with soul healing aesthetics, from the majestic Blue Ridge mountains in Appalachia and colonial architecture, to our natural appreciation and everything wild and beautiful. Nobody has more appreciated the region’s elegance than Thomas Jefferson, United States 3rd President.

Whosoever has visited the main residence of Jefferson, Monticello, outside Charlottesville, Virginia is aware of Jefferson’s love of nature that endures. Monticello is a grand exhibition of timeless natural and architectural elegance from the gardens to the grounds to the house itself. It is as if Jefferson’s feeling reflected the greatness of the home and the green loveliness of the ground: “If you do anything, look as if the whole world watched.”

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Obviously, the Jefferson architectural style dates back to the middle of the 18th century when Thomas Jefferson started to design and reconstruct his homes and retreats himself. Most of the transformations created in Monticello by Jefferson, a self-learned architect, during his time as an ambassador for Europe were ideas gathered in France and Italy.

Characteristics of the Jeffersonian Style

Red Bricks – Central Virginia’s soil is mostly made up of red clay. These bricks embody the surrounding area and make use of original late-eighteenth-century materials.

White Painted Columns with Classic Moulding – The most recognisable feature of the Jeffersonian style of architecture is the white-painted columns with classic moulding. The columns stick out against the red brick, exuding the charm of this iconic addition. The Jefferson-style elongated white columns are seen in the area and are thought to be one-of-a-kind.

Serpentine Walls – The classically Jeffersonian serpentine walls are ingenious, inspired by Italian and French undulating exterior walls. The elegant weave of the bricks forms a serpentine pattern, which emphasises the wall’s resilience while also giving the home’s exterior a graceful look.

ArchesInside and out, the authentic Jeffersonian architecture makes extensive use of the bridge. Arches are the natural contrast to the dignified columns that grace the home’s exterior and entryway, and they give the interior a light, polished feel.

Here are some prominent examples of Jeffersonian architecture.

1. Monticello

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When Jefferson was appointed as the American ambassador to France in 1784, Monticello was nearly completed. During his five years there, he was inspired by the work of contemporary Neoclassical architects as well as ancient Roman buildings, and his views about architecture shifted dramatically.

When Jefferson was appointed as the American ambassador to France in 1784, Monticello was nearly completed. During his five years there, he was inspired by the work of contemporary Neoclassical architects as well as ancient Roman buildings, and his views about architecture shifted dramatically.

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In 1793, Jefferson began drafting designs for modifying and expanding Monticello, and construction began in 1796. Most of the existing structure was demolished. The final house, finished in 1809, is a three-story brick and frame structure with 35 spaces, 12 of which are in the basement, each of which has a unique shape. The east portico, which leads to the public areas of the house, and the west portico, the private entry, which leads to the estate’s vast gardens, are the two main entrances. 

The second-story windows begin at floor level and are joined in a single frame with the first-story windows, giving the appearance that there is only one storey. The structure is dominated by an octagonal dome in the middle. A continuous balustrade extends along the roof’s edge behind it. This design was inspired by eighteenth-century French one-story pavilions like the Hôtel de Salm; the dome was the first in the United States.

2. Poplar Forest

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In 1806, Jefferson began construction on a home at Poplar Forest based on his own plans. 2 The octagonal-shaped one-story brick house will be built. The north and south facades can be dominated by pedimented porticoes. Four elongated octagons surrounded a central square in the interior architecture. When Jefferson’s presidency ended in 1809, the building was almost finished. Jefferson made Poplar Forest his personal refuge from the noisy, packed scene at Monticello during his retirement years.

Jefferson’s octagonal house was damaged by fire and remodelled over the years, but the floor plan, walls, chimneys, and columns survived. Carpenters and masons are rebuilding the house to its original condition using early nineteenth-century construction techniques. A single kitchen, smokehouse, and two octagonal outhouses have all survived, in addition to the main house.

3. The Rotunda (and the Pantheon)

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At the north end of the University of Virginia’s campus, the “academical village” is the crowning architectural accomplishment. The Rotunda, as Jefferson modelled it as a half-scale replica of the ancient Roman Pantheon, should look instantly recognisable to those with even a casual knowledge of Western architecture (below). 

The Pantheon, a sacred structure dedicated to all Roman gods, exemplifies how Roman architects could take a Classical Greek idea—note the Greek temple front—and pair it with features that were so spectacularly modern that the Pantheon remained architecturally original for nearly two centuries. Indeed, the revolutionary “dome on a drum” structure that is so neatly hidden—when seen from its perfect angle—by the Greek temple front that Roman architects praised is responsible for the temple’s uniqueness. 

Furthermore, this dome was made possible by a uniquely Roman invention: concrete, which opens into a large interior space capped by a single window (or oculus).

4. University of Virginia: an “academical village”

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After his political career came to an end, Jefferson focused his energy on two projects: the establishment of a university for the state of Virginia and the construction of buildings for that institution. Jefferson was a strong believer in the value of education. While an oft-quoted phrase—“A trained citizenry is a crucial necessity for our existence as a free people”—does not seem to have come from Jefferson’s pen, it encapsulates his thoughts on education. He took a visionary approach to planning the University of Virginia, which was established in 1819 and began instructing the first class in March 1825. 

Rather than starting with a single structure and expanding if required, Jefferson imagined an entire “academic community” where students and professors could live and learn together. The university’s first phase was built on a symmetrical north-south axis, according to Jefferson. Pavilions for professors, student dormitories, and vast lawns are located along the longitudinal axes on the east and west sides, respectively. 

Indeed, the term “campus,” which is widely used to describe a college or university’s grounds and buildings, is derived from a Latin word that means “field.” In this way, Jefferson created one of the first real college campuses, complete with buildings and deliberate exclusionary policies.

5. Barboursville

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Barboursville, in Orange County, Virginia, was once the Barbour family’s plantation. Thomas Jefferson built the home, which is now a ruin. James Barbour, a friend of Jefferson’s who served as Governor of Virginia, Secretary of War, and Ambassador to Great Britain, owned the house. The two brick cottages on the farm, which are still standing, were built in 1810 for the Barbour family to live in while the main house was being built. 

The Barbour plantation’s main residence, begun in 1814 and completed in 1822, was constructed entirely of bricks manufactured on the Barbour plantation. A two-story hexagonal reception room and an octagonal drawing room were included in the building. An octagonal dome was also included in Jefferson’s plans, but it was never constructed.

The house burnt down on Christmas Day, 1884. Following the burn, descendants of the Barbour family resided in the property’s original brick cottages, which remained in the family until 1945. The main house’s remains have been stabilised and are being maintained. The property is now owned by Barboursville Vineyards, and the remains of the house are open to the public for free.

References

Monticello.org. 2021. Barboursville | Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. [online] Available at: <https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/barboursville> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. Monticello | building, Virginia, United States. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Monticello-building-Virginia> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

Monticello.org. 2021. Poplar Forest | Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. [online] Available at: <https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/poplar-forest> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

Khan Academy. 2021. Thomas Jefferson, Rotunda, University of Virginia (article) | Khan Academy. [online] Available at: <https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/british-colonies/early-republic/a/jefferson-rotunda-uva> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

Workman, R. and Workman, R., 2021. What is Jeffersonian Architecture? — Rose Hill Manor. [online] Rose Hill Manor. Available at: <https://www.rosehillmanor.com/blog/2016/11/14/what-is-jeffersonian-architecture> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

Author

Tushar is currently an architecture student in VIT. Whenever he finds time from browsing through memes, he's constantly lost in dreaming about new conspiracy theories. He is constantly trying to stay awake through online classes one class at a time.

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