Living (building) history: flat roofs on Lawn rooms

West Lawn (Pavilions I and III with student rooms), University of Virginia
West Lawn (Pavilions I and III with student rooms), University of Virginia

UVA Today: Jeffersonian Roofs Restored Over Lawn Rooms. When I lived at 3 West Lawn, there were pitched slate roofs over all the student rooms on the Lawn at the University of Virginia. Turns out that those roofs post-dated Jefferson. His original idea? Flat roofs. And the design was ingenious: Cover a serrated wooden roof with decking. The rain water would run down through the decking and run out through the valleys of the wood roofs. Kind of like this:

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Unfortunately, Jefferson’s vision outstripped his engineering. The wood sub-roof leaked, damaging the roof over the colonnade walkway. So in the 1830s the flat roofs were covered over with pitched slate roofs.

What I find so fascinating about the story is the fact that Jefferson’s original roofs were preserved under the slate for 180 years. I also like this tidbit:

“All the single-leaf doors were replaced in the 1990s with new half-leaf doors,” Kutney said. “We’ve more recently found evidence that the single-leaf was the original Jefferson condition, so we’re going back to the single-leaf.”

When I was a student, I had a discussion with the late J. Murray Howard about the ongoing renovations of the Lawn, including his dismay that students damaged the paint of the doors on their Lawn rooms by hanging signs on them advertising various student activities. He didn’t appreciate my observation that the students who occupied the Lawn were the living embodiment of Jefferson’s vision just as much as the buildings, and that part of the vitality of that vision was the presence of advertising for the student groups who had gotten them to the Lawn in the first place. Howard was responsible for adding the half-leaf doors. It’s petty of me, but I like the reminder that even experts can be wrong.

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