Dual purpose: Between land and structure, Keith Scott sees the big picture

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Among Keith Scott's projects is the 2015 Southern Living Idea House at Bundoran Farm. Photo: Brian Bieder Among Keith Scott’s projects is the 2015 Southern Living Idea House at Bundoran Farm. Photo: Brian Bieder

Having already earned a degree in landscape architecture from Virginia Tech, Keith Scott decided that, in order to deepen his understanding of the built environment, an architecture degree would be necessary as well. So he got both.

“As a result of the two degrees, many of my favorite places are where building and landscape are inextricably connected,” he says. His company, Rosney Co. Architects, which he founded with business partner Julie Dixon, reflects those interests to this day. The two take on residential projects comprising everything from historic renovations to new constructions, including last year’s Southern Living Idea House at Bundoran Farm. We asked Scott to tell us about growing up in Virginia, what he finds inspiring and what’s in the studio right now.

Keith Scott. Photo: Jen Fariello
Keith Scott. Photo: Jen Fariello

Why architecture?

I certainly don’t think architecture was inevitable for me. I did not have anyone in my family that was a builder or an architect pushing me towards the pursuit of architecture. Neither was I a kid who knew from an early age that he wanted to be an architect (though I did think Mike Brady had an awesome job). It was the ’70s, so, like most kids back then, I was left to explore the world around me and find my own path. That said, I was a kid who built his fair share of forts in the woods with friends and siblings and spent an inordinate amount of time building with Legos, Erector Sets and Lincoln Logs. I also spent a lot of time drawing elaborate concepts for amusement parks as well as other, more prosaic themes such as farms and barns (this was often done during my father’s sermons). One of the earliest drawings that I can recall making was a detailed barnyard scene that hung on my grandmother’s refrigerator for years. Fast forward 40 years later and I occasionally still find myself drawing barns in the office for various clients, so maybe it was meant to be after all.

Shortly after arriving at Virginia Tech I wandered through the landscape architecture studios and immediately felt a connection to the work being done and studio environment and quickly decided that was where I wanted to be. As I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I became convinced that I also needed an architecture degree in order to further explore and develop a broader understanding of the built environment. Exploring the connection between building and landscape was and continues to be an important part of the work done in our office.

On a very basic level, architecture provides me with a vocation that I love and am passionate about. I think I would get bored if I had to do the same thing over and over, so I thrive on the variety inherent in the practice of architecture given that every job and client is different. The process of taking a project from concept to a finished building is very satisfying, as each part of the process draws on a different set of skills; from creative, conceptual thinking during the design phase to creative, analytical thinking during the construction drawing phase.

A 1980s farmhouse that borrowed attic space to create a cathedral ceiling in the living room. Photo: Rosney Co. Architects
A 1980s farmhouse that borrowed attic space to create a cathedral ceiling in the living room. Photo: Rosney Co. Architects

Why did you choose to practice in Virginia?

Other than the ubiquitous “few years working in New York City” where I worked for the Italian architect Aldo Rossi, I have lived here all of my life, so it is a natural and maybe inevitable place for me to live and work. As my family grew and New York apartments became less and less spacious, moving back to Charlottesville seemed like a logical path. Plus, Charlottesville is such a beautiful place, why wouldn’t you want to live here? Being back in Virginia gave me the opportunity to revisit and study Virginia’s rich architectural legacy, which is the source of inspiration for much of the work in our office. In Charlottesville, we are also fortunate to have a well-educated and sophisticated population that fosters a thriving architectural community.

The addition and renovation of an 1800s farmhouse that was dismantled and moved from Buckingham County. Photo: Rosney Co. Architects
The addition and renovation of an 1800s farmhouse that was dismantled and moved from Buckingham County. Photo: Rosney Co. Architects

Tell us about your college experience. Was there a standout teacher who had a lasting impact on you?

Both my undergraduate landscape architecture and graduate architecture degrees are from Virginia Tech and it was the perfect place for me to pursue my design education. There are so many good professors at Virginia Tech, but landscape architecture professor Paul Kelsch stood out in the program. Robert Dunay and Hans Rott were the standouts during graduate school. They never accepted the easy answer and continually challenged my thinking. Broadly speaking, the professors were outstanding and encouraged students to explore the worlds of design and architecture wherever it took us, and I thrived on the dynamic and wide variety of exploration that resulted.

I spent a lot of time in the wood shop, dark room and silk screen studio producing design studies for my studio projects. During graduate school, I became slightly obsessed with mid-century abstract and minimalist artists like Barnett Newman, Richard Serra and Donald Judd. I was encouraged to follow this interest and challenged to find connections to what I was exploring in my studio projects. During my last semester of graduate school, I visited the Shaker community at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, at the encouragement of my thesis advisor and the simple, elegant architecture that I found there seemed like a logical extension of the type of exploration I had been doing during graduate school. The strong relationship between their work, lives and place continues to inform the work that I do.

Keith Scott renovated this small ranch house outside of Lexington, Virginia, as a retreat for an avid fly fisherman and hunter. Photo: Rosney Co. Architects
Keith Scott renovated this small ranch house outside of Lexington, Virginia, as a retreat for an avid fly fisherman and hunter. Photo: Rosney Co. Architects

On process: How does it begin?

I imagine most architects will say that the process begins with the clients and that is absolutely true in our office. We begin each project getting to know the clients and working with them to clearly define their building program, budget and stylistic goals. When these basic project goals are well-defined, my partner, Julie Dixon, and I begin to study the site, whether that is an existing building where we need to understand and analyze the existing structure, or a pastoral farmland property where we need to understand topography, solar orientation, wind directions, views, site circulation, etc. Once the site and the client goals are understood we get the trace paper out and start sketching.

What inspires you?

The people I interact with day-to-day; our clients, my business partner, our employees, the builders and craftsmen that we work with. They are what keep my job interesting. I get to work with an amazing array of people with a wide variety of backgrounds, interests and goals and their passion for what they do is infectious. In particular, discovering what the clients are passionate about, having that inform the design and finding an architectural solution that excites them is incredibly satisfying.

Any building that exhibits thoughtful design, elegant simplicity and a high level of craftsmanship inspires me. That may be the Lawn at UVA, a barn in Albemarle County, a mill in the Shenandoah Valley or one of the many simple farmhouses that dot our landscape.

An addition in Farmville that is used each summer as the stage for the client's Summer Garden Opera performances. Photo: Teddy Hodges
An addition in Farmville that is used each summer as the stage for the client’s Summer Garden Opera performances. Photo: Teddy Hodges

What are you working on now?

We have a really interesting mix of work in the office at the moment. The bulk of our work is residential, but we have some interesting commercial renovation projects in progress, which are located in Farmville, Virginia. One is a four-story 1905 tobacco prizery (warehouse) that the developer is converting into student apartments. The other is a mid-century art deco bank building on Main Street that will be a mix of commercial and residential. Both buildings are located within the Farmville downtown historic district, which makes them eligible for state and historic tax credits. We are working on some new houses in the Bundoran Farm development, as well as a renovation and addition of the property known as Hard Bargain on Park Street in downtown Charlottesville. We are also working on a cottage renovation at Shrine Mont, which is an Episcopal camp and conference center in the small town of Orkney Springs, Virginia, just north of Harrisonburg. It has an amazing collection of buildings and is one of my favorite places.

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