Batten’s Impact Grows with Plans for New Building


Karsh building rendering
The design of the Karsh Institute of Democracy building is inspired by Jefferson’s Rotunda and Academical Village. (Howeler +Yoon illustration)

In a significant step for collaboration and growth, the University of Virginia's renowned Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy is gearing up to expand into a brand-new building, co-locating with one of the world’s premiere institutes for the study of democracy. 

The Batten School will occupy 17,500 square feet of space in the cutting-edge new Karsh Institute of Democracy building, a 65,000-square-foot facility to be constructed as part of UVA’s new Emmet-Ivy Corridor. The Batten School and the Karsh Institute are scheduled to move into the building in summer 2026, the same season in which the nation marks 250 years since the Declaration of Independence.

Garrett Hall, on Central Grounds, will continue to be homebase for the Batten School, which will use the new space to expand its operations and capacity. The University's Board of Visitors’ Buildings and Grounds Committee endorsed the plans and drawings for the new building earlier this summer and characterized it as part of a mutually beneficial partnership between the school and the Karsh Institute.

“The new Batten School space will allow us to play an even more meaningful role in creating solutions to the challenges democracies worldwide are facing, “ said Dean Ian Solomon. “The partnership with Karsh and the proximity to the School of Data Science and North Grounds will greatly enhance our ability to serve our students, deepen faculty research and collaboration, engage with policy makers and leaders, and bring academic programming and learning opportunities to the broader community.”

For the Batten School, which marked its 15th year last year, the expansion offers many opportunities. The school is tight on space in Garrett Hall and needs room for growth; its inaugural student body of 25 students has expanded to 215 this academic year. 

In addition, the chance to partner more closely with the Karsh Institute means Batten students will have even more access to some of the best policy thinkers in the world, said Associate Dean for Administration Craig Lindqvist.

“Being co-situated with the Karsh Institute brings big advantages. It gives our students expanded access to national and global leaders who are engaged in the most critical public policy issues of our time,” Lindqvist said. “We expect that the close proximity of our students will also benefit Karsh, further weaving the institute into the academic life of the University."

Construction commences next year, and the Batten School's footprint within the Karsh Institute building is thoughtfully planned, with space allocated for student services, research centers, faculty spaces and offices. 

“We need much of that space just to meet our current needs, as well as providing growth opportunity for the school in the future,” Lindqvist said. 

The building was designed by architectural firm Höweler + Yoon with Hanbury, which collaborated closely with both the Batten School and the Karsh Institute to consider the building’s use.

karsh building auditorium
Inside the auditorium, the space allows for audience interaction and participation, regardless of whether the audience is a small class or a full-capacity crowd. (Howeler +Yoon illustration)

The firm said it used exterior materials such as brick, precast concrete panels, and glass reference the architectural history of the University while developing a new visual language. The columnar precast facade frames the warm cherry wood drum that clads a state-of-the-art auditorium, a centerpiece of the facility. The landscape will feature a paved promenade and a tree-lined central green, and will integrate seamlessly with multiple building entrances, its architects said.  

Eric Höweler, who co-founded the firm with J. Meejin Yoon, said the building “blends tradition with contemporary sensibilities, championing openness and creating a vibrant and distinct sense of place for this one-of-a-kind institution.” 

In addition to solving spatial needs and growing the school’s footprint, the new space is also a strategic step forward. The Batten School's proximity to the Karsh Institute will also cultivate connections across various schools, centers and departments at the University. Initiated with a $50 million gift from Martha and Bruce Karsh, the building will be a sort of educational ecosystem to support scholarship, teaching and engagement, said Architect for the University Alice J. Raucher. 

“The co-location of the Batten School and the Karsh Institute of Democracy will incubate collaborative research and advance democratic ideas,” Raucher said. “Although the Batten School will have two equal centers of gravity on Grounds in Garret Hall and the Karsh Institute, their presence in the Emmet-Ivy Corridor will help create a 24/7 vibrancy in the building and the district.”

The Batten School was established in 2007 by a $100 million gift from UVA alumnus Frank Batten, enhancing UVA’s natural strengths in public service and policy, which stretch back to the University’s founding. 

Since launching with an inaugural class of accelerated graduate students in its Master of Public Policy program, the school has grown by leaps and bounds, introducing a post-graduate program in 2011 and an undergraduate Bachelor of Arts program in 2012. It added new minors in 2012 and 2018, and this year started two new 12-credit professional certificates in Public Leadership and Public Policy. 

“The Karsh Institute works closely with partners on Grounds, in the surrounding community, across the country and around the world to build and strengthen democracy, and our new building will expand our capacity to do so,” said Melody Barnes, executive director of the Karsh Institute. 

The building will be at the head of the long visual axis from Emmet Street and Central Grounds, culminating in the view of the linear green space that connects the School of Data Science to the Karsh Institute and the Virginia Guesthouse, currently under construction. 

karsh building at night
The Karsh Institute will be sited at one end of green space adjacent to the planned Virginia Guesthouse hotel and conference center and the School of Data Science. (Howeler +Yoon illustration)


Garrett Hall at Sunset

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