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CASE STUDY

Replacing Historic Corinthian Capitals for Thomas Jefferson’s UVA Rotunda

The historical significance of this project reaches back to UVA’s founder, Thomas Jefferson. With his original architectural design for the Rotunda, the campus’s most prominent building, he envisioned that the architecture itself would provide students with an education in aesthetics. Today, the Centerpiece of Thomas Jefferson’s “Academical Village” is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Carved by the Ricci family of Carrara, the Rotunda’s original capitals were destroyed in an 1895 fire. When the Rotunda’s early-20th-century replacement capitals began to crumble, extraordinary measures were required. According to Richard Guy Wilson, Chair of UVA’s Architectural History Department, “The decision was made to get the very best that is possible anywhere, and duplicate the original Jeffersons.”

The University contracted our company to restore the capitals. Lacking any complete capitals, detailed photographs, or original drawings, our team used 3D scanning to recreate the original capital design. With only the remaining fragments of a single lower capital base, we created a full quarter section capital model, first with a 3D scan, and then with drawings. Based on the drawings, a clay model of the upper part of the capital was created and placed on top of the reconstructed marble lower portion. The model was then scanned again for a digital design of the whole capital. Within ten months, 6-axis robotic machines recreated 80% of each capital, with the remaining stonework completed by skilled Italian carvers.

To preserve the Rotunda’s integrity and proximal historical structures, our team also designed an innovative lateral conveyance system for lifting and lowering those heavy and fragile capitals onto a 30 to 45-foot high scaffolding, then moving them through a system of rails feeding each column. Once we removed the old capitals, we installed new ones weighing about 6,300 pounds each. We completed the whole procedure with a small group of installers over a few weeks, without any incident. 

“We had six weeks set aside, and they did it in half the time,” UVA’s Senior Historic Preservation Project Manager Jody Lahendro said. “We had four weeks planned to remove the old capitals, and they were able to do that quickly, too.” The project has received many awards, including the MIA Pinnacle Award of Excellence for Renovation and Restoration and the Carrara Trade Fair’s Best Use of Carrara Marble.

Location: Charlottesville, VA
Completion: 2015
Owner: University of Virginia
Architect: John G. Waite & Associates
General Contractor: The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
Size:
16 new 4′ tall Corinthian Capitals
Services: Design, modeling, carving, dismantling, and replacing new Corinthian Capitals

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