The Carole Weinstein International Center received an award recognizing outstanding architecture from the Virginia American Institute of Architects.
AIA gave the 2012 award of honor to the University of Richmond building for excellence in contextual design.
The contextual design category looks at architecture that reflects the history, culture and physical environment of the place in which it stands and that, in turn, contributes to the function, beauty and meaning of its larger context, according to the award description.
The AIA jury found the international center to be "an outstanding building, clear in its concept and exemplary in its detailing. ...The central courtyard is handsomely executed and rich with reference. The building is at once iconic and contextual," according to the AIA's website.
Uliana Gabara, founding dean of international education, said she had started working on the idea of an international center almost 12 years ago. After talking to Carole Weinstein, wife of philanthropist Marcus Weinstein, who said she would make a donation to the university to fund an international center, Gabara started making plans.
"The idea was to bring into campus as many academic and administrative spaces as possible that would give it a richness that would address as many as possible issues of internationalization and create an anchor on campus for all kinds of international activity," Gabara said.
Architecture firm Glave & Holmes and its Principal-in-charge Lori Garrett managed the project, listening very carefully to the people who would be using it, Gabara said.
Garrett said one of the key items the group had tried to achieve had been to make the building respond and reflect the context around it - the beautiful gothic buildings - and maintain that consistency, but also be distinctive and different and express the mission of the building: international education.
"We did that through using the neo-gothic vocabulary, but stretched it and pushed it to evoke a little Mediterranean or Middle Eastern," Garrett said.
Gabara said it had hints of a renaissance building and that designs for a central courtyard existed in various forms in a number of cultures. The columns have hints of an Italian courtyard and also the Alhambra, a type of Muslim architecture, she said.
"This is a kind of model of a building that has existed around the world for many centuries. That was, of course, very intentional," Gabara said.
If you look at the exterior of the two facades, there are symbols from West African cultures of nobility and truthfulness, Gabara said. The floor in the courtyard is a mandala, with stones from about 30 countries in it, and the globe in the courtyard has no political boundaries.
"We wanted to symbolize a united world, rather that one divided by political boundaries," Gabara said. A new tradition has been created of twirling the globe for good luck.
"Moving through this building, you really have to think architecturally, and the architecture speaks," Gabara said. "It's very important in the way we perceive a space."
Garrett said she had been very excited about receiving the award because the AIA had high standards. This was the first year the AIA had a contextual design category, and this was the inaugural award, she said.
The award will be presented at the Visions of Architecture gala at The Hotel John Marshall on Nov. 9. The International Center will also be profiled in November's issue of Inform magazine and exhibited at the Virginia Center for Architecture's annual exhibit.
This is the second award the International Center has received for architecture. In 2011, it won the Palladio Award in the New Design and Construction category, the nation's top honor for new construction of traditional architecture.
Contact staff writer Mia Lichter at firstname.lastname@example.org