It is suiting the Chrysler Museum selected an architect to design a space highlighting the architectural explorations of Thomas Jefferson. Work Program Architects embraced this opportunity to create a space that tells the story, “Thomas Jefferson Architect: Palladian Models, Democratic Principals and the Conflict of Ideals,” on exhibit Oct. 19, 2019–Jan 19, 2020.
The highly charged exhibit examines Jefferson’s admiration of Andea Palladio, a 16th century Italian architect, as well as classical Greek and Roman influences, to express ideals of a democratic society, and his own architectural explorations within the conflicting context of a young country reliant on enslaved people for construction and craftsmanship of treasured landmarks such as Monticello, the Virginia Capitol, and the University of Virginia.
Originated by the Museum’s curatorial staff, the exhibit features more than 120 art objects, architectural models, and books from revered institutions such as the Library of Congress, the National Gallery, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Palladio Museum in Vicenza, Italy. Special requirements to insure the integrity of the historical objects and keeping them safe from moisture and gases were important to the design of the lighting, casework, and placement of the exhibit.
Occupying the entire Special Exhibitions Gallery adjacent to Huber Court, the team was challenged to accommodate the exhibit’s objects in appropriate context as the research and story evolved. WPA’s experience with space planning and technologies assisted staff decisions. A 3D model allowed staff to move within the space on-screen or in virtual reality and to study relationships of objects, including models of Palladio’s Villa Rotonda in Vicenza, and UVA’s Rotunda, on display in American for the first time, as well as sketches, engravings, paintings and books. The exhibition space is grounded with four columns, symmetrical and temple-like. The team then considered how to “frame” special moments and studied circulation patterns to enhance the visitor experience.
Designers also selected wall color — something neutral and modern to juxtapose the highly charged and historical content. They designed custom pedestals for the models that grounded them and gave them significance, and designed exhibit lighting.
As the first architecture-focused exhibit for the museum, there is no doubt Thomas Jefferson would have appreciated how WPA’s technological tools and experience facilitated and transformed the curators’ decision making.