Tag Archives: Harvard Graduate School of Design

The Menokin Project Model is in the Making

The Menokin Foundation is pleased to announce that it has received a generous $25,000 grant from Union First Market Bank to fund the building of a scaled architectural model of the Foundation’s Menokin Project.

The finished model, which will be used in the Foundation’s educational and public awareness initiatives, is being fabricated by the internationally-recognized architecture firm of Machado and Silvetti Associates, LLC.  The model is based upon Machado and Silvetti’s concept design for the rehabilitation of the Menokin ruins—once home to Declaration of Independence signer, Francis Lightfoot Lee—into an exhibition and conservation center that provides a revolutionary approach to the study of history, architecture, the arts, and conservation.

The design incorporates developing new systems to support and combine architectural glass with the remaining historic fabric. This strategic rehabilitation will accurately represent the shape and volume of this 18th-century National Historic Landmark.

Production for the model is currently underway, and is scheduled to be completed in early August.  Several students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, who recently participated in a studio class focusing solely on Menokin, are assisting Machado and Silvetti on the model fabrication as summer interns.

Construction of the model uses Computer-numerically-controlled (CNC) machine tools. These tools require sophisticated CAD/CAM software to translate three-dimensional models into simple text files that directly control tool motion through combinations of linear and rotational motion. The images below illustrate this 3-D printing process in action.

Harvard Design Students Present Their Ideas for Menokin

By Sarah Pope
Executive Director, The Menokin Foundation

Away from the quiet fields of Menokin, I traveled to bustling Cambridge, Massachusetts on May 5 for a much anticipated day at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD).  Twelve architecture graduate students in Professor Jorge Silvetti’s studio, “Ruins, Memory and the Imagination,” would be presenting their individual projects for a Conservation Research Laboratory; a Visitors Center; and Visitors Waterside Harbor at Menokin, as well as the design of all elements necessary to structure and present the Menokin site narratives to the visitor.


The students had been working on their projects for several months, following a weekend-long site visit in February to Menokin and the Northern Neck.  The Menokin Foundation provided the opportunity for these students to explore contemporary architectural design solutions to tell the story of our historic site.

We’re planning for a future curated exhibit and publication that presents the Harvard students’ innovative ideas to the public.  More details will be forthcoming, but in the meantime, here are themes and associated designs that floated to the top for me as I watched the project presentations:

1)      Designing for flexibility: one student designed very cool mobile archaeological stations or pods that can be moved around the site as we continue our investigations.

2)      Finding inspiration in painting and fine arts: another student found inspiration from the lines he saw on the Menokin landscape, and his proposed Visitors Center evoked the work of artist Marco Migani.

3)      The changing terrain of the site: plateau and ravine, water and woods, open and enclosed: I was particularly enamored by one student’s design of a bridge and attached Visitors Center that spans a ravine to the south of the Menokin house site.

4)      Siting and perspective-relationship of new buildings to Menokin: Some students anchored their Visitors Center to the Menokin house—at certain corners of the house or on its central axis—that created a visible dialog between the historic and contemporary structures. Others tucked their new facilities away from the house site into the tree line of our expansive woods, reinforcing the flat, openness of the plateau surrounding the house site.

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 who met the students in February.

Exploring the Relationship Between History and Modern Architecture

The Menokin Foundation is pleased that its historic site is the focus of a Harvard Graduate School of Design studio course for this spring semester. The course ─ Ruins, Memory and the Imagination — is taught by Nelson Robinson, Jr. Professor of Architecture, Jorge Silvetti, who leads 12 graduate students through the complex design and interpretive issues surrounding the historic Menokin site.

The Menokin Foundation owns and operates a 500-acre site that was the plantation home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and is located in the heart of Virginia’s Northern Neck region.  Foundation President W. Tayloe Murphy, Jr. commented on the studio, “I have always taken pride in the Foundation’s firm belief in incorporating education and learning as parts of its mission.  We offer learning opportunities for everyone whether their interests lie in history, architecture, nature, art, or conservation.  This current collaboration with Harvard takes the educational opportunities available at Menokin to a whole new level.”

Students explore basement of the Menokin ruin.
Students explore basement of the Menokin ruin.

Over the course of the studio, which concludes in May, multiple historical layers will be sorted out and revealed by the graduate students enrolled in the studio as central themes of interpretation at Menokin:  the existing architectural ruins of an eighteenth century structure and the stories they imply—dense chapters of American history in its revolutionary years, with its cultural manifestations inscribed in the institution of The Plantation and its architecture;  the earlier layers of pre-colonial aboriginal occupation of the site by the Rappahannock Indian Tribe; and the current cultural significance of an imposing natural landscape rich in geological strata, flora and fauna.

Professor Silvetti commented on the timely opportunity that the Menokin partnership offers the Harvard Graduate School of Design and its students, “In no other time as in the present have we found Architecture in such perplexing contradictory relationship with History: on the one hand the practice of architecture is under intense social and political pressures to relate positively to  ‘a history’, while on the other, the discipline of architecture has become utterly indifferent, even oblivious to history itself.”

The students, who hail from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ghana, China, Korea, and Russia, will each develop a design project to include: a Conservation Research Laboratory; a Visitors Center; Visitors Waterside Harbor; as well as the design of all elements necessary to structure and present the Menokin site narratives to the visitor.  The students will present their projects to a juried panel in early May at Harvard.

Students enrolled in the studio are from around the world.
Students enrolled in the studio are from around the world.

“This studio could be titled ‘The Architect as a Story Teller,’” smiles Professor Silvetti,but that’s the instructor’s title and the students should find their own title for the narrative they would develop.”

Menokin Foundation Executive Director, Sarah Dillard Pope, commented, “It’s been a pleasure working with Jorge Silvetti and this young, talented, international group of designers.  This academic exercise offers the Menokin Foundation an opportunity to showcase their talents.  The studio also draws attention to our professional team’s efforts to devise innovative preservation and interpretive solutions for the Menokin site.”

Menokin and Harvard Join Forces

When the core of your mission is education and you are presented with
the opportunity to host a group of graduate students from the Harvard
Graduate School of Design you vote “Aye!” right?

Of course, right. Jorge Silvetti, lead architect on the Menokin Project, is pencil
also a Nelson Robinson Jr. Professor of Architecture at Harvard. He approached
Menokin Executive Director, Sarah Pope last fall about offering The Menokin Project
as the subject of his studio course for the 2013
spring semester.

Ten students will participate in the studio, and will travel to the site this weekend for an introduction to Menokin and the history of the Northern Neck.

Their initiation will begin on Friday evening with a dinner hosted by Menokin Trustees and staff. Honorary Menokin Trustee Calder Loth will present an indepth look at the current conservation practices at nearby historic sites.

They plan to spend a large part of their time here exploring the Menokin site and facilities.  They will also pay visits to other historic landmarks in the area including George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument, Stratford Hall (c. 1735 and boyhood home of Francis Lightfoot Lee), Grove Mount (c. 1780 home built for Judith Carter) and Mount Airy (c. 1752 and home of John Tayloe II, father of Rebecca Tayloe Lee).

The students will focus on all aspects of The Menokin Project, including the cultural landscape and master site plans, and design solutions for the house.

The course will conclude in the spring when students present their projects before a juried panel. We look forward to sharing these with you as they evolve.