The University of Virginia (UVA) and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation jointly bestow the esteemed Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal annually in three fields in which Jefferson “excelled and held in high regard”—one medal each in architecture, law, and citizen leadership—and in some years, in global innovation. This year, Wiatt Professor and Director of Auburn University Rural Studio Andrew Freear and the Studio itself have been selected for the honor in architecture. Other 2023 Medal recipients include Jason Rezaian for the Medal in Citizen Leadership and Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju for the Medal in Law.
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal is the highest external honor granted by the University of Virginia, which does not grant honorary degrees, and celebrates the recipients as exemplars in their endeavors. Architecture is the original Medal category and Mies Van der Rohe was the first recipient in 1966. Other past recipients in architecture include Alvar Aalto (1967), Robert Venturi (1983), and more recently Sir David Adjaye OBE (2018) and Kenneth Frampton (2022).
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation is an “independent, nonprofit organization that owns and operates his home, Monticello.” As a museum and historic site, Monticello keeps alive the accomplishments of Jefferson, the complex man who penned the Declaration of Independence, served as the third President of the United States, and founded the University of Virginia in 1819–but who was also a slave owner. Today, the Foundation works to recognize the valuable lessons of history: that we must wrestle with them, rather than ignore them, and that we must continue to work for a just future. Past Medal recipient Wendy Kopp (Teach for America, Teach for All) used the honor to publicly address the difficult “paradox” Jefferson presents as both an enslaver and an architect of our government and its ideals, and Senator John Lewis, 2015 recipient of the Citizen Leadership Medal, went on to point out that we have not yet arrived at that future when he encouraged award ceremony attendees to “keep your eyes on the prize.” Following Senator Lewis’ instruction to us all, we are compelled to use this recognition to highlight the persistent housing inequities still found in rural America, inequities that have arisen from the ongoing legacy of human enslavement.
Andrew Freear and Rural Studio will receive the 2023 Medal in Architecture at the annual Founder’s Day celebration, a joint UVA and Foundation event held on April 13, Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. Professor Freear captured the sentiment of all of Rural Studio when he learned of the honor: “It’s quite extraordinary that a modest undergraduate program in West Alabama can be mentioned alongside giants in our field such as Jane Jacobs, Glenn Murcutt, Billie Tsien, Tod Williams, and Frances Kéré. We are deeply humbled to have been selected for this distinction not just for the honor, but for the light that it shines on rural America and society’s role in ensuring equitable, dignified communities.” We couldn’t have said it better.
Look for a post on the ceremony in April.
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Photos by Timothy Hursley