University of Virginia Rotunda Restoration



The Rotunda, originally designed by Thomas Jefferson as a library and center of study for the University’s academic village, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The only other buildings in the United States to receive this same classification are Independence Hall and the Statue of Liberty. The building was originally built in 1822, and after a major fire in 1895 and numerous renovations, the intent of this project was to restore the deteriorating elements and return the building to Jefferson’s original design.

This complex project consisted of a 35,000 SF interior and exterior restoration and renovation of the historic landmark. The exterior work included:

  • Replacement of portico roofs
  • Restoration of the sheet metal cornices and entablatures
  • Restoration of stucco plaster
  • Replacement of marble column capitals
  • Restoration of brick and stone masonry of the terrace wings
  • Repairs to the terrace paving
  • New water feature in the East Courtyard

One of the main points of emphasis for the refurbishment of the Rotunda was to bring the Rotunda back to a student-centered building as Jefferson had intended. A portion of the Oval Rooms and the two South Wings were remodeled as classrooms with the latest audiovisual capabilities. The interior work also included:

  • Complete replacement of building MEP systems
  • Modifications to the first floor stairs
  • Elevator replacement
  • Addition of a stairway to access the middle gallery of the Dome Room
  • Partial remodeling of the terrace office spaces
  • Remodeling of restrooms and support spaces
  • Finish restoration including the dome ceiling
  • Upgrades to the audio-visual, telecommunications and security systems


Charlottesville, Virginia

University of Virginia







Whiting-Turner worked very closely with the UVA historic preservationists and the local archeologist. During the project, many excavations unearthed the remains of historical structures and remnants of the original construction. Some of the larger discoveries include large cisterns located in the courtyards, masonry culverts, sidewalks and multiple architectural components of the 1850s Annex. Many of these are now on display at several UVA museums.

The project also included construction of a new 8,000 SF underground mechanical and service support vault below the East courtyard. The project included an extensive underpinning process along with sheeting, shoring, and mechanical tie-backs to install the subterranean vault and a new mechanical room under the existing East Oval Room. The existing Rotunda did not have any formal foundations and the existing brick was laid directly on earth. The underpinning had to be closely coordinated to incorporate smaller pits to minimize stress on the masonry above.

There were also major upgrades to the campus infrastructure, including storm sewer, sanitary sewer and water services feeding this building and others in the area. Existing buildings adjacent to the site, statues and numerous large trees along with the University’s historical lawn features provided logistical challenges. In addition, much of the underground work was installed through areas of hard/dense rock. The installation of large portions of the new utilities involved boring and directional drilling specific sections of piping to preserve the site features, including numerous large historical trees located in the area. In addition, a storm system that ties into a historical vault structure was discovered during preliminary investigative work. This required complex underpinning and selective demolition to accommodate the routing.



There were 16 structural marble capitals replaced to support both the North and South Porticos. An in-depth analysis from remnants of the original Jeffersonian capitals was performed to maintain a close match for the new marble capitals. Marble from Carrara, Italy was determined to be the closest match to Jefferson’s capitals. A local Italian sculptor was procured to quarry and fabricate the capitals. The process started with performing a 3D scan of the lower one-third portion of the original Jeffersonian capital remnants that are currently on display in the Bayley Art Museum’s courtyard. This information was loaded into modeling software to generate a starting point for the capitals. From there, historical photos from the late 1800s were used to generate a 2D drawing outlining the general design approach.

Several detailed mock-ups were then performed to fine tune the details. After all approvals, the marble blocks were cut and placed on a six-axis, computer-controlled lathe which removed about 90% of the marble. Hand carving was then used to remove the last 10% and arrive at the completed capitals. Since these were also structural in nature, anchoring devices were designed in the center of the column capitals to structurally tie them to the steel above and the columns below. A custom support system, along with a specialized cart, was designed to individually place each capital in its final location.

This restoration also involved the replacement of 40 new wood capitals which surround the iconic Dome Room. The existing capitals were not replicas of Jefferson’s original capitals, which were destroyed in the fire of 1895. The only evidence of the Jeffersonian wood capitals were historic photographs taken in the original Dome Room. After significant design collaboration, which included clay mock-ups and computer modelling, a design was finalized. The wood capitals were then constructed using a computerized three-axis lathe and hand carving. The capital elements were carved individually so they could be installed around the structural steel which supported the loads of the upper Dome Room.



Historical National Leader
Valerie Cascio
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