Washington and Lee University Commons

Lexington, VA
(2001 - 2003)

Nelson Byrd Woltz collaborated with VMDO Architects from the outset of the design process to integrate this new 80,000 square foot building into the fabric of a campus flanked by a National Historic Landmark and a fragile stream valley 100 feet below the building site. By submerging the service area underground, The Commons Project transformed the north side of campus from a backyard of parking lots and service drives to a pedestrian environment that serves as a second front and reconnects the campus to the wooded stream valley - a remnant of the indigenous Shenandoah Valley landscape. The site plan employs a language of materials to distinguish between the campus/urban and wooded/natural sides of the new building. Walks and walls at the campus level are primarily brick and concrete, typical of the existing campus materials. Bluestone and local limestone dominate the site material palette on the wooded side of the building, making reference to the importance of geology in shaping the regional landscape and the ridge on which the campus sits. An elevated boardwalk floats through the tree canopy, connecting the building to the primary parking area for the campus. An amphitheater at the east end of the building seats 150 people and creates a significant occupiable place that mediates between the campus and the woods, affording views to the distinctive mountains beyond.

Collaborators: VMDO Architects