Past Events

Rediscovering Jefferson’s Rotunda Capitals in the Twenty-First Century

Tour and Talk

Tektonics Design Group
702 East 4th Street
Richmond, VA 23224

When Thomas Jefferson designed the Rotunda at the University of Virginia in the years before its construction in 1822-26, his intention was to represent the “authority of nature and power of reason.” This crowning element of the University was inspired by the Roman Pantheon, documented in Jefferson’s edition of Palladio. The University’s curriculum included astronomy among its courses, and Jefferson at one point planned to paint the interior of the dome with images of the night sky that could be moved by a control. In imitating a model from antiquity, Jefferson hoped to make a building which would demonstrate the seriousness of his project and educate the taste of his countrymen. As he said in a note to Madison, referring to the model for his capitol in Richmond, “It has obtained the approbation of fifteen or sixteen centuries, and is, therefore, preferable to any design which might be newly contrived. . . . It will be superior in beauty to anything in America, and not inferior to anything in the world.”

When the University of Virginia began its long-planned renovation and restoration of the Rotunda, their architects knew a key element would involve the recreation of the original Composite Corinthian capitals that ringed the interior of the Dome Room. Richmond industrial design firm Tektonics Design Group was selected to design and fabricate the 40 reproduction capitals for the Rotunda in as close to original detail as possible. This proved challenging, as the devastating 1895 fire that gutted the Rotunda also destroyed a great deal of primary source material and documentation related to its construction, thereby limiting resource materials. Working from select nineteenth-century photographs (and under the guidance of the University of Virginia preservationists) Tektonics went through a year-long modeling, design, & prototyping phase before jumping into full-scale production mode of the capitals in the fall of 2015. By integrating 21st-century advanced design and manufacturing with traditional handcraft and sculptural techniques, the team at Tektonics developed a process to reproduce Jefferson’s 40 capitals—carved from solid mahogany–in just five months.

Join ICAA and AIA Richmond for a tour through the shop, see the story of the design and fabrication of the recreation capitals, and hear a talk on the significance of Jefferson’s classicism from renowned architectural historian and Jefferson scholar, Carroll William Westfall.

Continuing Education: 1 AIA/CES LU

Cost: This is a FREE event and open to the General Public.