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Virginia’s Favorite Architecture

Recently, the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects conducted an open poll to determine the commonwealth’s most beloved buildings. The result is “Virginia’s Favorite Architecture,” a list of 100 well known structures around the state. Richmond had a deservedly good showing, earning 23 of the overall spots. Here are three more Richmond structures which would have made good additions.

While the list covers a wide range of building uses, the facilities / public utilities category could have used a few more examples. One such case is the Byrd Park Pump House, part of Pump House Park . The building is fascinating for its integration of social and utility functions; it served as a pump house and dance hall. The gothic revival structure would also be the only on the list by designer Wilfred E Cutshaw, the city engineer who heavily influenced Richmond’s public spaces during Reconstruction.

Another architectural quality the list could have placed more emphasis on is interiors. While many buildings on the list contain beautiful spaces, few of them are chosen because of their exceptional interior design. The VCU Brandcenter is such a building. A contemporary renovation and addition of a brick carriage house for the university’s graduate advertising and communications school, the structure is special not for its exterior appearance but for its striking internal spaces. Its volume seems to be flooded with natural light. Its organization is fluid yet circulation patterns are clear. Bright colors and flexible, creative workspaces enliven the building from the inside out. Its innovative design makes it a worthy entry on Virginia’s contemporary architecture ledger.

Church Hill’s ChildSavers Building, formerly home to the radio station WRVA, is well known for its unique form and dramatic site. Big name architect Philip Johnson designed the building in 1968, adding some international cache to the neighborhood. The lawn on the building’s west side commands an expansive view of Richmond’s skyline. This and the neighboring overlook are popular spots for taking photos, lounging, and enjoying the scenery. While the ChildSavers building is often the backdrop for these activities, it excels in that capacity. Its rough hewn concrete faces accept the shadows of surrounding magnolias and crape myrtles gracefully; the building has a surprisingly southern ambience for being designed by a man from Cleveland. Somehow, the ChildSavers building seems like it has always been there, which makes it deserving of a spot alongside other time-honored Virginia structures.

The VSAIA should be commended for this undertaking. Both the initial vision and the voter response suggest that interest in a beautiful, culturally-informed built environment is alive and well in the commonwealth. Surely Virginians can take pride in the wealth of quality architecture in the state.

M.F.A. and D.OK.

Photographs by D.OK.
Background photos in lead graphic taken from “Virginia’s Favorite Architecture”

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