Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892), a notable 19th century American architect, designed the VMI Barracks, professors' residences and other Institute buildings during the 1850's-1860's. Born in New York, Davis studied at the American Academy of Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design. He helped to popularize the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate styles, and his many important projects included private residences as well as public buildings. Davis has long been recognized by historians as the most significant American practitioner of the "secular gothic," and VMI was the first American college planned entirely in the Gothic Revival style. This style incorporates towers, turrets, and other design elements first used in medieval castles and cathedrals. The Barracks was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and the VMI Post was named a National Historic District in 1974.
VMI owns 27 original Davis drawings. Davis's association with VMI came about as a result of his design work for Philip St. George Cocke, a wealthy Virginia planter and member of the VMI Board of Visitors. Cocke, an impassioned advocate of the Gothic style, employed Davis to design "Belmead" the Cocke residence in Powhatan County, Virginia. Cocke became Davis's patron in the state, and when VMI began its building program in the late 1840's, it turned to Davis to create a comprehensive plan for the Institute. During the period 1850-1861, a significant portion of the Barracks, a Porter's Lodge, Mess Hall, the Superintendent's residence, and several faculty residences were constructed using Davis's designs. Davis's dream of completing the Barracks quadrangle was interrupted by the Civil War and VMI's post-war financial problems, and his work for the Institute ended in the 1870's. It was not until the early 20th century that his vision for the Parade Ground facade of Barracks was realized, based on a Davis-inspired design by another noted architect, Bertram Goodhue.
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