New Dining Facilities, Innovation Space, Virtual Studios Highlight On-Grounds Renovations at UVA Darden

14 August 2020

By Jay Hodgkins

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business continues to innovate its facilities to offer the world’s best education experience, preparing purpose-driven leaders for the future of business.

This summer on the School’s North Grounds location in Charlottesville, Virginia, Darden is upgrading its Abbott Center Dining Room and renovating classroom spaces that will support the move of the W.L. Lyons Brown III i.Lab from its existing location to a completely renovated space in Darden’s core academic building.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is more uncertainty surrounding the future of education than ever before, but one thing is certain: There is a growing need for lifelong learning and business education in a growing number of forms,” said Darden Dean Scott Beardsley. “At the Darden School, we embrace change in many forms, including upgrading our facilities to meet the needs of future business leaders, so that we can deliver on the full potential of our mission to provide an unparalleled transformational learning experience.”

The effort to upgrade many of Darden’s buildings and facilities is one of four priorities comprising Darden’s $400 million Powered by Purpose campaign.

New Dining Center to Power New Student Lunch Program

A student committee assessing the future of Darden Grounds recommended earlier this year that the School transform the Abbott Center Dining Room into a more casual and energetic setting. So when the coronavirus pandemic led Darden to plan a sweeping response to support new and returning students in the coming academic year, including the launch of a new student experience fund that will provide lunch for all full-time MBA students each day of class, the need to rethink the Darden community dining experience became a top priority.

Thanks to generous gifts from several Darden alumni, the funds were also in place to refresh Darden’s main dining facility.

An initial phase of renovations to the dining center is being made this summer, and is focused on updating décor, including new paint, carpet and selected furniture that will enhance the openness and give the dining room a more contemporary feel. Due to health and safety precautions being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for members of the Darden community returning to Grounds in the fall, the School will use Abbott Center Dining Room as the center of modified food and beverage operations.

Later in the year, the School will make further upgrades to the dining room’s décor, layout and lighting. And when there is more certainty around Darden’s ability to return to normal dining services, the School will complete renovations that will replace the current buffet concept with reimagined food service.

“We want to create a dining atmosphere in which all members of the Darden community and our guests, united in their pursuit of lifelong learning, can eat together, meet together and relax together,” said Ashley Williams, CEO and chief learning officer (CLO) of Darden Executive Education and Lifelong Learning. “Time together outside of the formal learning environment is often where great ideas are born, and our goal is to foster a high level of collaboration among our students, alumni, Executive Education participants, guests, and faculty and staff in a world-class setting.”

i.Lab to Make Its Debut at Heart of Darden Grounds

The W.L. Lyons Brown III Innovation Laboratory (i.Lab) will transition later in the academic year from its existing North Grounds location to a new, dynamic space in Darden’s main classroom building. The luminous space will provide student innovators and entrepreneurs with direct access to resources and guidance.

“For over a decade, the i.Lab has been a hallmark of our commitment to innovation and entrepreneurial thinking,” said Beardsley. “This exciting new chapter for the i.Lab allows us to embed cutting-edge, flexible spaces at the heart of the Darden student experience, fulfilling our commitment to unparalleled transformational learning.”

Expanded i.Lab facilities will be installed in two phases and include a new flat classroom, shared workspaces, collaboration spaces and makerspaces.

Flat Classroom

Two amphitheater-style classrooms were converted into one large, flexible flat classroom space on Darden’s Charlottesville Grounds during summer 2020.

In the first phase, two existing theater-style classrooms will be updated to become one large flat classroom, which will provide more flexibility for interactive learning and collaboration. The combination of classrooms as a single, larger space allows Darden to provide degree and non-degree programs in a compelling, flexible, in-person format that also allows social distancing amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Windows to the outside and to the adjacent classroom building hallway will enhance natural light in the room, while enhanced technology will create a cutting-edge space for virtual learning and multimedia educational materials.

In the second phase of construction, Darden will upgrade lighting, flooring and branding to distinguish a dedicated section of the classroom building as a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation.

New Studios to Support Darden’s Growth in Virtual Teaching Excellence

Darden’s transition to 100 percent virtual course delivery last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic demonstrated the faculty’s commitment to achieving a longstanding aspiration to be as excellent in the virtual classroom as it is in the physical classroom.

To enhance its virtual delivery capabilities, the School will convert another of its theater-style classrooms into two studios purpose-built for virtual delivery of courses in the full-time MBA, Executive MBA, Master of Science in business analytics degree programs; non-degree programs from Darden Executive Education; and other programs and events. There will also be room to add two additional studios in the space in the future.

The virtual studio renovation project will be ready complete in time for fall classes, when all Darden degree and non-degree programs will offer increased virtual delivery in addition to in-person classes that follow strict guidelines for health and safety.

“The Darden Grounds are an inspiring backdrop and the physical foundation for the world’s best education experience, making possible moments such as carefully choreographed case discussions in the classroom led by Darden’s top-ranked teaching faculty,” said Beardsley. “Darden’s Grounds must set the standard for world-class business education, with connection and flexibility as defining elements.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Molly Mitchell
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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia