The Rotunda at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, was designed by Thomas Jefferson as the architectural and academic heart for what he termed the "academical village." Encompassing the rotunda, pavilions and student rooms along the lawn, the academical village was created on the assumptions that learning is a lifelong and shared process and interaction between scholars and students enlivens the pursuit of knowledge.
Jefferson modeled the rotunda after the Roman Pantheon, reducing the measurements so the rotunda would not dwarf the pavilions. In 1822, construction on the rotunda began and continued for four years. Jefferson died July 4, 1826, and did not live to see the rotunda's completion later that year. In 1976 during the 233rd anniversary of Jefferson's birth, The American Institute of Architects recognized the academical village as the most significant U.S. architectural achievement during the past 200 years. The rotunda also is listed as a National Historic Landmark and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site.
The rotunda's dome is 67 feet wide and 18 feet tall and sits on a low-slope roof that extends 6 feet beyond the dome's bottom footprint. There are seven steps at the dome's base with the top tread being 10 feet above the deck. A 19-foot-wide oculus is at the top of the dome covered by a skylight. The dome originally was constructed of wood and burned in a fire in 1895. During reconstruction, Guastavino tile was chosen for its fireproof characteristics and a Guastavino tile vault, a patented system fabricated with thin terracotta tiles in three or four laminated layers set in cement, was installed. During the renovation, new steps were installed using pre-cast concrete treads on brick risers.