The Commons opens out to the creek, offering outdoor dining terraces and covered seating areas. From the mall at the top of the slope, the new University Commons sits quietly among clusters of mainly historic buildings.

With a design sensitive to both its natural and historic setting, VMDO Architects won the competition for Washington & Lee’s new University Commons. The firm was selected from a pool of 54 invited applicants, five of which were asked to present designs for the new building.

VMDO Architects’ approach respects both the ordered, built environment of the University’s historic campus atop a hillside and the creek running along its base. The challenge for the design team was to protect the creek and its wooded slope, and to fit a large building into small scale. The design team responded by maximizing the building’s floor plate below grade while three, smaller stories front the mall. The design resists the urge to use the slope as a “back-door”, a service entrance for the new Commons and Library and Science Buildings next door. Instead, the design submerges service, reclaiming these areas as outdoor green spaces, and restores a 1920’s master plan to treat the wooded creek as a park.

The Commons opens out to the creek, offering outdoor dining terraces and covered seating areas. From the mall at the top of the slope, the new University Commons sits quietly among clusters of mainly historic buildings. An outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the Commons steps down to the creek bed, inviting the wooded landscape and mountain views beyond to enter the campus, while connecting the main campus to the University’s Law School, athletic fields, stadium, and student housing on the neighboring ridge.

With a design sensitive to both its natural and historic setting, VMDO Architects won the competition for Washington & Lee’s new University Commons. The firm was selected from a pool of 54 invited applicants, five of which were asked to present designs for the new building.

VMDO Architects’ approach respects both the ordered, built environment of the University’s historic campus atop a hillside and the creek running along its base. The challenge for the design team was to protect the creek and its wooded slope, and to fit a large building into small scale. The design team responded by maximizing the building’s floor plate below grade while three, smaller stories front the mall. The design resists the urge to use the slope as a “back-door”, a service entrance for the new Commons and Library and Science Buildings next door. Instead, the design submerges service, reclaiming these areas as outdoor green spaces, and restores a 1920’s master plan to treat the wooded creek as a park.

The Commons opens out to the creek, offering outdoor dining terraces and covered seating areas. From the mall at the top of the slope, the new University Commons sits quietly among clusters of mainly historic buildings. An outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the Commons steps down to the creek bed, inviting the wooded landscape and mountain views beyond to enter the campus, while connecting the main campus to the University’s Law School, athletic fields, stadium, and student housing on the neighboring ridge.

 Instead, the design submerges service, reclaiming these areas as outdoor green spaces, and restores a 1920’s master plan to treat the wooded creek as a park.
VMDO Architects’ approach respects both the ordered, built environment of the University’s historic campus atop a hillside and the creek running along its base.

“What makes the Commons, I think, is the fact that the designers seem to have really understood our campus and our students in a way that they interact and the kind of spaces that they would use. We do feel that we have a kind of unique student body and this building again really seems to be based on an understanding of our strengths and our own culture. That’s remarkable.”

– Tom Contos Former University Architect, Washington and Lee University
The Commons opens out to the creek, offering outdoor dining terraces and covered seating areas. From the mall at the top of the slope, the new University Commons sits quietly among clusters of mainly historic buildings.
The Commons opens out to the creek, offering outdoor dining terraces and covered seating areas. From the mall at the top of the slope, the new University Commons sits quietly among clusters of mainly historic buildings.
The Commons opens out to the creek, offering outdoor dining terraces and covered seating areas. From the mall at the top of the slope, the new University Commons sits quietly among clusters of mainly historic buildings.

Client: Washington & Lee University

Location: Lexington, VA

Discipline: Student Life

Completion: 2003

Size: 101,240 SF

Awards Received

2005 Silver Citation
American School + University Magazine

2004 Honor Award
AIA Central Virginia