Timber-frame and prefab home building company Bensonwood of Walpole, N.H., has been contracted to restore a long-missing element to the University of Virginia's (UVA) Pavilion X. Designed by founding father, philosopher, and UVA architect Thomas Jefferson, Pavilion X was built around 1824. One of 10 pavilions connected by single-story colonnades forming Jefferson's "Academical Village"—a National Historic Landmark—Pavilion X still houses university professors, as the architect intended.
The original structure's grand neoclassical design included a porticoed temple front, Doric columns, cornice decorated with metopes and triglyphs, a narrow gallery, pitched roof, and a paneled attic parapet that no longer exists. It is the attic parapet, which Jefferson modeled after Venetian architect Andrea Palladio's illustrations of the Temple of Nerva Trajan, that Bensonwood will reconstruct.
Around 1896, the deteriorated parapet was removed and was never replaced. "The building could function without it, but architecturally it really made it a different building; a little less formal and less specific in its architectural influence," says Tedd Benson, Bensonwood's founder. When Benson heard that UVA was seeking an expert to build a reproduction of the parapet, he says he knew it was something his company was ideally suited to deliver.
Benson, who was at the forefront of the timber-frame building renaissance in the 1970s, has built his business upon the craft of timberframing using traditional joinery methods and modern tools. He understands the challenges inherent in reproducing antique architectural features.
The university has conducted archival research into the original Pavilion's design and construction, drawing on the expertise of Albany, N.Y., design firm Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects, who created a framework plan for the historic preservation of several of the university's buildings. For the past 25 years, MCWB has been involved in restoring many Jefferson-designed buildings and residences. Researching and creating the design for the parapet reproduction was an intensive process, requiring roughly three months of studying archival materials such as Jefferson's drawings and early photographs, and surveying the building's roof to precisely pinpoint its original layout and positioning, according to Jeffrey Baker, partner at MCWB and lead restoration architect for the Pavilion X project. "With all that information, we were able to recreate it with a great deal of accuracy to what had been there," Baker says.
"From all we can understand, there was a timber-frame that formed the structural basis of the parapet, so we'll be replacing it with a timber-frame built with mortise and tenon joinery that we think will be true to that period," Benson says.
The Pavilion X exterior restoration project marks the beginning of the university's work to revitalize and preserve the Academical Village pavilions from the outside; interior restorations were initiated in 1984 as part of UVA's larger campus preservation project. Reproducing the parapet is only a portion of the work to be completed, however. Work will also include returning the adjoining student wings to their original serrated-roof state, restoring the Chinese rails on the gallery, refinishing the student room and pavilion doors and the front columns in their original paint and stucco finishes. According to Baker, the restoration of Pavilion X's exterior will serve as a model for other restoration and preservation work within the Academical Village.
To complete the restoration of the original 4 1/2-foot-tall parapet, Benson and his team of carpenters will craft exterior paneling and columns, molding, and trim details that will be applied to the timber-frame support structure. Traditional mortise and tenon joinery will be combined with stainless steel fasteners and stainless steel flashing to protect the new all-pine parapet from weather damage. Pavilion X will be returned to its former glory and more formal aesthetic, just one step toward renewing UVA's architecturally significant campus.
For a virtual tour of the University of Virginia Academical Village, visit www.virginia.edu/academicalvillage/lawn_map/map.html#.