Author: Richard Guy Wilson

Commonwealth Professor and chair of the Department of Architectural History at the University of Virginia
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Jefferson, Thomas and Architecture

Thomas Jefferson was a passionate student of architecture whose designs are among the most influential in the early history of the United States. As a student at the College of William and Mary he purchased his first book on the subject and later assembled one of the largest libraries on architecture in America. He was particularly influenced by the classical style of Andrea Palladio, who emphasized symmetry, proportion, and the use of columns. These principles then came to define the architecture of the early United States, first in Richmond, with Jefferson’s design of the State Capitol, and then in Washington, D.C., where he influenced decisions on the design of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Jefferson is perhaps best known for his homes—Monticello, in Albemarle County, and Poplar Forest, in Bedford County—which became laboratories for Jefferson’s design interests and his many influences. Monticello, in particular, brought together Jefferson’s obsessions with classical forms and his admiration for contemporary France. During his retirement, Jefferson established the University of Virginia, creating a distinctive, U-shaped design of connected pavilions and a domed Rotunda circling a long, narrow green space. Along with Monticello, the university is considered to be one of the highlights of American architecture and cemented Jefferson’s legacy as a designer.