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National Architecture Week 2015: History and Significance

One of the oldest associations in the country, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has represented the architecture profession since the pre-Civil War era. In 2007, the AIA celebrated its 150th anniversary, marking the occasion by advocating for an official commemorative week.  A bill was introduced into the 110th Congress of the United States between February 5-6, 2007, designating a week “to bring attention to the importance of the architectural profession to the United States.”

President George W. Bush proclaimed the week beginning April 8, 2007, as National Architecture Week stating, “Across our Nation, architects help design buildings and communities that are a source of pride and inspiration for all Americans.”

“Across our Nation, architects help design buildings and communities that are a source of pride and inspiration for all Americans.”

This particular week in April was chosen for its relation to President Thomas Jefferson, who was born on April 13, 1743, in recognition of his contribution to the architecture profession.

Though not a trained architect himself, Jefferson had a passion and an innate talent for the craft. “Architecture is my delight, and putting up and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements,” he said. He spent many years working on his own home of Monticello and is best known for designing grounds plan for the University of Virginia campus.

“Architecture is my delight, and putting up and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements.”

It is not just the design of the campus for which Jefferson was responsible, but for the university’s very existence. He first described his wish to establish a state university in a letter in 1800, and again in 1805 wrote that a university “should not be a house but a village.” On February 21st, 1818 the General Assembly approved funds for a state university to be called the “University of Virginia,” which officially opened on March 7, 1825.

The University of Virginia rotunda was damaged by fire in 1895, prompting renowned architect Stanford White, principal of the New York firm McKim, Mead & White, to design its copper dome. In 1938, more modifications were made to the rotunda, and most recently, restoration on Jefferson’s original design was completed in time for the nation’s bicentennial in 1976. Currently, the rotunda is in the middle of a $42.5 million second phase of a major renovation.

Jefferson’s legacy of architecture for public impact lives on through his own designs and in the continued work of those he has inspired. The AIA bestows the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture annually to recognize achievements by private- or public-sector architects, public officials, or other individuals who have raised awareness or appreciation for design excellence. The 2015 Thomas Jefferson Award recipients are Thomas E. Lollini, FAIA, and Thomas Luebeke, FAIA.