Architecture Professor Edward Ford sees the same buildings on the Lawn that we all see, but he looks at them in a different way. “I look at building parts as abstract forms rather than symbolic ones,” says Ford. “You see a lot more when you don’t read ornaments like traffic signs.” Ford suggests we look at the Lawn as a lesson in the basic types of orders: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Tuscan. Three basic orders are represented in Pavilions I (Doric) and II (Ionic) and the Rotunda (Corinthian); the Tuscan order is demonstrated in the Colonnades.
The pavilions also present a juxtaposition of Jefferson’s two main architectural influences: Roland Fréart de Chambray’s Parallèle de l’architecture (seen in Pavilions I, IV, VI, VIII and X) and Andrea Palladio’s Quattro Libri (seen in Pavilions II, III, V, VII and IX).
The symbolic significance of classical architecture can be superficial and variable, Ford says. To some, the Doric order, which was used for the Parthenon, represents Athenian democracy; to others, though, it represents slavery, Euro-centrism and imperialism. “Either way, this is an easy but shallow way to understand architecture. You don’t appreciate it. You just recognize it and attribute ideas to it that it reminds you of.”
More interesting to Ford are the geometric and sculptural roles of ornaments, which help us divide buildings into pieces we can relate to. He sees architectural details as sculptural intrusions that often create the impression of stone coming to life, as the Ionic volutes animate the joint between column and entablature. Ford is interested in the evolution of the orders, such as the American order developed by Jefferson’s collaborator, Benjamin Latrobe, which featured tobacco leaves. “Classical details are necessary, not as symbols but as a kind of sculptural punctuation between elements,” says Ford.
"Classical details are necessary, not as symbols but as a kind of sculptural punctuation between elements."
The Lawn represented Jefferson’s view of the University at the time of its founding. The small, decentralized, nonhierarchical structures housed 100 male students and 10 faculty members. There was no president, no chapel and very little classroom space. Today, “our University is much bigger and requires a lot more space and resources,” Ford says.
Why do we need beautiful buildings and interesting details? And why do architectural traditions survive at all? Ford offers a quotation from one of his favorite architects, Louis Kahn: “Architecture isn’t created in response to a need, but once it’s created, it’s needed.”
THE ANCIENT ORDERS
Stylistically the simplest, the Doric column has no base, a wide shaft and a plain capital. Its roots can be traced to the seventh century B.C.
The Ionic column, which originated in the sixth century B.C., has a large base; a slender, fluted shaft; and a scroll capital.
The ornate Corinthian column, developed later and seldom used in ancient Greece, has a base, slender, fluted shafts, and a capital decorated with acanthas leaves and scrolls.
The Romans added the Composite and Tuscan orders. The Tuscan column is simpler and plainer than the Doric, and the Composite column combines elements of the Ionic and Corinthian orders.