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Historic Character of Dairy Market Celebrated in New Regional Food Hall

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

How do you maintain the character of a beloved landmark while meeting the needs of today’s modern communities?

Monticello Dairy in the late 1930’s-1940’s
Monticello Dairy in the late 1930’s-1940’s

Cunningham | Quill Architects and their team of consultants faced many challenges when crafting the multi-phased redevelopment of the historic Monticello Dairy site and building located in Charlottesville, VA. Working with Stony Point Development Group, the team’s main goal was to revitalize the existing Dairy building into a community amenity, both for the surrounding residential neighborhoods and growing commercial district within the City of Charlottesville, Virginia.

For over 40 years, the Dairy Market served as a manufacturing and distribution center providing pasteurized milk, butter and ice cream for the residents of Charlottesville. Locals fondly remember having their birthday parties at the ice cream parlor and getting fresh ice cream at the walk-up lunch counter. The opportunity to rediscover and celebrate the “spirit” of the building and create a new destination was pivotal for the design team. The challenges were incorporating historic elements of the old along with modern interventions that supported the new food hall and office addition programs.

A Rational Program

Before entering the Dairy Market, a new outdoor terrace for visitors engages both the street and the interior of the building by increasing the usable circulation and encouraging guests to eat and gather outside. Just inside the Market, double-height steel transom windows bring increased daylight. Prominent signage directs visitors to a bar in the middle of the space, food stalls to the right and left, and restaurants that serve as anchors, luring visitors to all four corners of the market. The food vendors will be complemented by regional beverages, a brewery, and retail shops. Nestled within the back of Dairy Market will be a contemporary four-story Class A office building. What once were internal roadways for loading and service vehicles are now walkable sidewalks that allow visitors easy access to the historic building and the new modern office lobby.

Where does the historic fabric of a building or site begin and end?

During the lifespan of the building there were many additions added to the historic building, each addition having it’s own structural and mechanical systems. As the design team went through the historic review process, three quarters of these additions were deemed as non-contributing structures, which meant they could be removed. The challenge for the design team was how best to incorporate and celebrate the historic fabric within interior design of the food hall. Another added level of complexity was how to incorporate the office addition without overwhelming the historic building scale and details: where does the historic fabric of a building start and stop? The first step was to create more volume in the food hall which was achieved by removing portions of the existing roof and floating the office addition over the existing masonry walls. By choosing to express the historic remnants, allowed the “old” to inform the new ascetics used within the interiors of the dairy building.

The Spirit of the Building Lives On

Iconic Dairy Cow Sculpture
Rendering of Cow Mural
Rendering of Cow Mural
Cow Mural Today

As word started to spread about the redevelopment of the Monticello Dairy, Charlottesville residents started reaching out to the development team and sharing memories and personal pictures of the Monticello Dairy. In one particular case, the development team was given a series of pictures that included an image of very large and iconic dairy cow sculpture located in the front lawn of the Monticello Dairy building. It’s unknown if the cow had a nickname or how long it stood outside, but needless to say, the development team believed this iconic feature needed to be re-imagined into the project.

The opportunity came in the form of a mural that would be painted by a local artist and located on one of the historic dairy building facades. What seemed to be a creative and fun node to the past did have its challenges. As the project was working its way through the City of Charlottesville approvals process, the cow mural became the focus for debate and critique: was it a sign, was it a mural, why was it a cow? The challenge was to design an iconic mural that could not be interpreted as a sign or brand for the diary building. After some minor edits and debate during the approvals process, the mural was approved. The mural is just one symbol of the project’s quest to celebrate its past and bright future.


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