Honor - SCUP Excellence in Landscape Architecture for General Design

Duke University

Duke University Water Reclamation Pond
Duke University - Duke University Water Reclamation Pond
Jury Comments
“the result is more than the sum of the parts, and is a model for other campuses . . . a truly multi-functioning landscape . . . a creative solution and beautiful outcome . . . very collaborative process”


    • Site – 12 acres
    • Duke Pond is integrally tied to the curricula of
      undergraduate and graduate programs, and is • frequently used as a study site for other universities
      and local school groups.
    • The pond contributes to campus wellness initiatives by providing a frequently used location for programmed and passive recreation, as well as the inherent benefits of accessing a natural environment.
    • Thoughtful use of grading saved as many existing trees as possible.
    • The diverse plantings span varied inundation levels.
    • The pond ties into the campus bicycle and pedestrian plan.
    • Duke Pond is a popular spot for students to gather, study, and socialize.
    • The perimeter of the pond is structured as a series of fall shelves and wetland benches, supporting a diverse planting palette of nitrogen and phosphorus fixing plants.
    • Duke Pond reduces the flow of sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus to downstream areas by between 54 and 82 percent.


Following a period of significant drought, Duke University engaged the landscape architect to design a stormwater management pond to reduce its reliance on municipal resources by providing non-potable water to its chiller plant. The goal was to expand the functionality and benefits of this infrastructural system by creating a landscape and structures that would integrate design excellence, environmental stewardship, and educational opportunities. In doing so, the landscape provides a new opportunity for students to gather and interact with the surrounding ecology, offering opportunities for recreation and research while strengthening the campus identity.

Before any design intervention, the forest was overgrown with invasives, and the channelized stream had little hydrological or ecological value. The design team created a lush, vegetated edge with trees, shrubs, and over 40 herbaceous plant species (emergent, wetland, and upland) which respond to fluctuations in the water level depending on rainfall and campus demand. These plants tolerate both hot, dry summers and soaking wet conditions. With the creation of wildlife habitat, the site has become a model for biodiversity, as numerous species of birds, insects, fish, and mammals have added life to what had previously been an unhealthy landscape.

The landscape design creates circulatory connections to the university community, maximizing its potential as a recreational and educational amenity. A major path through the site draws pedestrians and cyclists from the heart of the campus, where they encounter diverse opportunities to interact with the pond and landscape. The site has become a place of respite for students, faculty, and staff who use the pond to study or have a quiet moment outside. The Nichols School of the Environment monitors the functionality of the pond on a continual basis, and faculty and students are using it for ongoing research projects. Duke Pond has become an oft-reference model of multi-functional infrastructure across peer municipalities and universities.

Project Team

Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects; McAdams