The architect as storyteller: students envision a new Menokin plantation

Menokin house ruins In Virginia’s Northern Neck, an area rich in colonial history, the 18th century Menokin plantation has fallen into ruin over the last half century. Now it is poised for rebirth, nurtured by the creative efforts of Jorge Silvetti (professor of architecture) his firm Machado and Silvetti and students of the spring 2013 studio, “Ruins, Memory and the Imagination.” Student projects are currently featured in an exhibit at the Virginia Center for Architecture in Richmond through April 27.

Built 1769 by Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and his wife, Rebecca Tayloe Lee, the neo-palladian buildings of Menokin sit on 500 acres along the Rappahannock River. The site had been settled earlier by the Rappahannock tribes and is layered with aboriginal, colonial, Civil War and Reconstruction history.

Menokin house

The 10-year restoration will occur in 2 phases. Silvetti’s scheme for phase 1 entails stabilizing the remains of the main house and creating a glass curtain wall that will highlight the building’s craftsmanship and history and enable it to support ongoing historical, ethnographic and archaeological investigations and education. The second phase of the project will culminate in restoration of ancillary buildings and the grounds.

Students in the studio were charged with situating and designing a conservation research laboratory, visitor’s center and harborside recreation area. They were also directed to envision the elements necessary to structure and present the site narratives for visitors. Their solutions addressed the varied terrain of the site in imaginative ways, including, in one case, mobile archaeological stations.

Sarah Pope,executive director of the Menokin Foundation, wrote in a blog post, “Above all, the interpersonal, human aspect of this studio—meeting the students, getting to know them and enjoying their unique perspectives on Menokin—was extremely fulfilling to me, as well as to our Trustees, staff, and friends.”

Learn more about the Menokin project, the Machado and Silvetti plans and the Virginia Center for Architecture exhibit.