Architecture as Scientific Inquiry: Jefferson’s Laboratories - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Architecture as Scientific Inquiry: Jefferson’s Laboratories

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Early Modern, Research Seminars
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Architecture as Scientific Inquiry: Jefferson’s Laboratories

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London

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Author’s digital reconstruction of Monticello’s proposed design, c.1768. Here, Jefferson experimented with the incorporation of a laboratory, office, workshop and solitudini votum beneath his bedchamber (© Danielle Willkens)

  • Monday 10 October 2016
    PLEASE NOTE: This Date Has Passed
    5:00 pm - 7:30 pm

    Research Forum seminar room, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN


  • Dr Danielle Willkens - Auburn University

Organised by

  • Prof. Christine Stevenson - The Courtauld Institute of Art

It is not surprising that figures such as Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) found architectural inspiration in science. With interests in optics and mechanical operations, Jefferson used his ‘little mountain’ of Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia as a tool to exercise several hypotheses and demonstrate how the entire home, and by extension the plantation, could function as an instrument for monitoring and mediating the natural environment. From its inception in 1768, Jefferson envisioned Monticello as a working laboratory to test his curiosities in meteorology, agriculture, and industrial production. Over the course of forty years, he refined variables as needed to achieve spaces that were functional, adaptable, and experientially compelling. These experiments at Monticello proved invaluable to Jefferson’s final, didactic architectural project: the University of Virginia. Here, Jefferson’s Academical Village aspired to improve (as he explained to Maria Cosway in 1822) the ‘virtue and science’ of the commonwealth’s citizens through its layout and curricular design.

Dr Danielle S. Willkens, Associate AIA, FRSA, LEED AP BD+C is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at Auburn University. She is a practicing architectural designer, researcher, and educator who recently completed her PhD in Architectural History & Theory at the Bartlett. Her practice experience includes design–build projects and collaborative installations that encourage community engagement with the built environment, challenge conventional definitions of sustainability, and illuminate aspects of both archival research and ‘big data’ spatial analysis through digital representation. She is currently the Society of Architectural Historians’ H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow, studying the impact of tourism on cultural sites in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Cuba, and Japan. Her travel blog can be found here:

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