Mike Welton, architectural writer and publisher of Architects+Artisans will host a guided and detailed tour of Jefferson’s Poplar Forest retreat on Saturday, June 18th.
Was Thomas Jefferson America ’s first modern architect? The form of Poplar Forest was unprecedented here in its time. The design is widely considered to be Jefferson’s Magnum Opus – his finest and purest work and a powerful physical exhibit of his vision through the reciprocity of architecture and landscape. The immutable geometric purity of a sky lit internal twenty foot cube of space encased in a perfect octagonal “shell” and symmetrically placed between two twin earthen mounds was his unique interpretation of a “five-part” Palladian Villa, but here the landscape construct – manipulated by man- became an essential participant in the composition of the object. One could not exist without the other. The house appears to be one story on approach, but the rear Southern facade presents a two story porch. The additive nature of the twin earthen mounds was created by subtracting a sunken rear lawn made for the walk-out cellar and to extend a sight line toward the creek and fields.
A comparative drawing (above) shows the relationship and formal arrangement between a typical Palladian villa (top) with it’s central house linked by arcades to outer pavilions, and Poplar Forest with its landscape order summoned into the whole.
Poplar Forest was Jefferson ’s final masterpiece and marked his retreat from public life.