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Karsh Institute of Democracy

An educational ecosystem poised to unite faculty, students, and the community in a vibrant space designed to inspire scholarship, foster dialogue, and champion the principles of democracy.

At the heart of the University of Virginia's Emmet-Ivy Corridor, the Karsh Institute of Democracy stands as a beacon of intellectual vitality and democratic engagement. With its elevated position overlooking a curated green corridor and outdoor gathering spaces, the Institute not only symbolizes the exchange of ideas but embodies it through its design. A testament to collaboration and purpose, the Karsh Institute of Democracy represents a powerful catalyst for advancing democracy and shaping the future of governance.

An anchor for the new redevelopment site, the building will serve as a unifying force, augmenting the work of multiple schools and centers already dedicated to the study of democracy at UVA. It will also accommodate the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, facilitating intentional cross-pollination of ideas and initiatives.

The building itself is a testament to the Institute's mission. Its design showcases a compelling architectural composition, with a subtle curve on the eastern façade that acts as both the main entrance and a visual landmark. Carved cornerstones anchor the structure, providing solidity and permanence, while rhythmic panel arrangements add texture, reflecting the dynamic nature of democracy.

The choice of exterior materials connects the Institute with the University's architectural legacy through a design that pays homage to tradition while introducing a fresh visual language that symbolizes the Institute's forward-thinking approach. Thoughtfully designed outdoor spaces, including a paved promenade and tree-lined central green, create a sense of community and offer opportunities for gathering and intellectual discourse.

The design team's collaboration with the Karsh Institute and the Batten School of Leadership has resulted in a design that caters to the multifaceted needs of its users. The interior seamlessly integrates academic, research, and workspaces, centered around the public-facing auditorium, multimedia, and event spaces. The building's lobby acts as a dynamic hub of community activity, welcoming visitors with a spiraling staircase that leads to the heart of the building—the state-of-the-art auditorium.

Inspired by the concept of the portico, the second-floor pre-function space is located between a warm cherry wood-clad "drum" and the perimeter white columns. Panoramic views overlooking the linear green pay homage to UVA’s iconic red brick Rotunda nestled behind columns that frame the Lawn. Inside the auditorium, thoughtfully positioned balcony tiers promote audience interaction and encourage inclusive "in the round" participation.

The design team is led by Höweler + Yoon with Hanbury, in collaboration with representatives from the Office of the Architect for the University, Facilities Management, the Karsh Institute, and the Batten School.

The Karsh Institute of Democracy has been selected as a Design for Freedom Pilot Project.

  • Sector: Civic + Community, Higher Education
  • Scope: Architecture
  • Charlottesville, Virginia
  • 2026
  • 69,320 SF
  • Visuals by Bloomimages
Project Team
David Keith
Managing Principal
William G. Hopkins
Project Manager
Sarah Rosenblatt
Project Architect
Michael T. Brady
Project Architect
Cody Dodd
Ryan Lewandowski
Amber Fults
Interior Designer
Ryan Griffin
Lindsay Duddy
Höweler and Yoon Architecture, LLP
Design Architect
2RW Consultants, Inc.
MEP Engineering
Robert Sillman Associates PLLC
Structural Engineering
Civil Engineering
Jaffe Holden Acoustics Inc.
AV / Acoustics Consultant
Dumont Janks
Landscape Architect
Nextstage Design, LLC
Theater Designer
Axias, Inc.
Cost Estimator
Heintges Consulting Architects & Engineers PC
Facade Engineer
Jensen Hughes
Code/Accessibility Consultant
2x4 Inc.
Tillotson Design Associates, Inc.
Lighting Designer
Van Deusen & Associates, Inc.
Vertical Transportation
Integral Group, LLC
Sustainability Consultant