on April 13, 2023.
Back in March, we shared that Wiatt Professor and Director of Auburn University Rural Studio Andrew Freear and the Studio itself had been selected for the esteemed Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture. That honor was bestowed jointly by the University of Virginia (UVA) and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which grant no higher honor, during UVA’s annual Founder’s Day celebration.
Each year, the Jefferson Foundation and UVA confer this honor upon outstanding figures in three endeavors in which Jefferson “excelled and held in high regard”: architecture, law, and citizen leadership. Each Medal—one Medal per field per year, occasionally jointly bestowed—carries the weight of recognition for recipients as exemplars of their fields. President of the Foundation Leslie Greene Bowman described the Medals at the Founder’s Day morning talk as “recognizing individuals who personify the qualities at the core of Jefferson’s vision for America.” The Medal in Architecture has the longest history among these Medals, having first been bestowed upon Mies Van der Rohe in 1966. Since then, the recipient list in architecture has grown to include 63 outstanding innovators, bold thinkers, action takers.
Founder’s Day is held on April 13 each year, Mr. Jefferson’s birthday—this year was his 280th birthday. Like Pig Roast, Founder’s Daylike has its own traditional commemorative and celebratory events: not only talks by esteemed Medalists, but also a dawn wreath-laying ceremony conducted in silence by the purple-robed Society of Purple Shadows, a performance by the eight-member Old Line Fife and Drum Corps, a three-volley salute (traditional gunfire salute) by the Old Guard Color Guard, and the awarding of the Medals themselves. The events take place in the University of Virginia’s Academical Village, which with Monticello itself, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At the 10 a.m. event on the West Lawn, Foundation President Bowman quoted Thomas Jefferson as declaring in 1801, “‘The only birthday I ever commemorate is that of our independence, the Fourth of July.’” She continued, “But every April, we respectfully ignore his wishes and gather here at Monticello on that birthday to honor Jefferson’s remarkable contributions.” Ms. Bowman and Mr. Tobias Dengel, Chair of the Foundation, continued, introducing renowned journalist and Citizen Leadership Medalist Jason Rezaian for the morning talk. As Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post, Mr. Rezaian was imprisoned for 544 days on false charges of espionage. Since his 2016 release, he has “used his platform to fight for the freedom and the liberty of others.” He closed by telling attendees, “Stay engaged. Keep reading. Keep our republic alive and healthy.” It is no wonder that Andrew and Mr. Rezaian became fast friends and that Rural Studio can expect a visit from Jason Rezaian in the future.
Both Andrew Freear and Jason Rezaian received their Medals at noon at the Rotunda in a ceremony that UVA President Jim Ryan called “the highlight of the day.” Medalists Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju were honored but could not attend in person because they were tending to their marriage equality legal case in India, continuing the critical justice-oriented work that promted their selection for the Medal in Law.
Andrew delivered the afternoon public talk in Old Cabell Hall, opposite the Rotunda. After a warm introduction by Dean Malo Hutson of UVA’s School of Architecture, Andrew offered his remarks, starting with how deeply honored Rural Studio is to have been selected. He noted that this year’s medal acknowledges how place-situated, people-centered work is critical and how housing cannot be addressed in isolation from other issues and must be tackled by iteratively designing. He further commented that the 2023 Medal award “recognizes that ‘the pursuit of happiness,’ the right to which Jefferson enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, is a harder pursuit for some, but one that can be eased if we work together and reinvest in the rural.” And as anyone who knows Andrew would expect, he encouraged attendees to recognize the interconnectedness of rural challenges and to support activities and research that make sustainable, equitable, dignified rural living possible.