In 2004, Duke’s new president, Richard Brodhead, announced that one of the primary goals of his administration would be enhancing the undergraduate experience. This directive led to a multi-year initiative that dramatically transformed a utilitarian service zone into a vibrant, student-focused campus center. This project renewed Duke’s iconic West Quad (renamed Abele Quad), gave life to an underutilized residential yard, and organized a heavily used service area—each with the dual goals of elevating the daily experience of student life and shaping a coherent and memorable campus experience. The Gothic Abele Quad, which contains the Duke Chapel, library, student dining, administration, classrooms, and residence halls, is now linked with the campus’s most progressive and adaptive spaces that support today’s diverse, connected, and informal student life.
As this set of critical student life building projects was first taking shape, the university convened a workshop of the eight architects and planners who were leading distinct but geographically adjacent projects. Present were key board members, administrators, faculty and staff. The landscape architect brought focus to the campus landscape itself and raised the potential that the landscape could be the singular force that unified these projects and galvanized a contemporary student life precinct at the heart of the campus. The landscape architect helped define a series of planning principles, and spatial and material strategies to bring both coherence and a unique character to the precinct. They also shaped an approach to exterior program distribution, setting goals for what kinds of activities would be supported in each part of the precinct, aligning uses with properly sized spaces, and building a network of formal and informal activity zones for individual students and groups to find and occupy their niche. Students were engaged at each stage to offer unique insight. Maintenance and operational staff were also involved throughout the process to ensure the long-term sustainability of the precinct.
Reed Hilderbrand; also Shepley Bulfinch; Stewart Inc.; Vanderweil Engineers; Jeffrey L. Bruce & Company; Irrigation Consulting, Inc.; Grimshaw Architects; Architecture Operations DPC; Pine and Swallow; Buro Happold