Stones, Bricks, and Mortar

An ambitious building program has changed the face of the campus, offering a physical framework for new ways of living, learning, and teaching. Photographs by Michael Zirkle.
Writer: 
March 31, 2006

When Abhijit Prabhu '02 returned to Duke's campus for a visit last November, he was surprised by how much things had changed in his absence. "It was clear to me," he told a group assembled to dedicate the new Bostock Library, "that this is not the Duke I went to. My sister graduated in May, and this isn't even the Duke she went to."

Prabhu's observation was made in reference to the bustling new library--as a student, he had served on its planning committee--but his comments could easily extend to the whole campus. Over the last four years, Duke has begun to unveil the products of an aggressive construction campaign. Since 2002, the university has completed more than a dozen new projects--seven in the last year alone--including a library, an art museum, a football building, two residential complexes, a four-part engineering complex, a public-policy building, an eye institute, two genetics research buildings, and major additions to the Washington Duke Inn and to the divinity, business, and law schools. Scheduled for completion this year are the 280,000-square-foot French Science Center, two medical-research buildings, a nursing-school addition, and a student plaza.

Place for breaks: von der Heyden Pavilion

 Place for breaks: von der Heyden Pavilion

 

The new construction represents the university's largest and most concentrated growth since East and West campuses were built in the 1920s and 1930s and may be seen as part of a nationwide building boom in higher education. Yet Duke's latest foray into the land of cranes and bulldozers represents not just an attempt to add capacity; it also demonstrates a new understanding of the way that students and faculty members live, learn, teach, and conduct research. The new buildings integrate public and social space with academic space to a degree not previously seen on campus. Their interior layouts are designed to encourage formal group learning and informal interactions that administrators hope will lead to key academic advances and provide a physical framework for Duke's emergent culture of interdisciplinary research. At the same time, their exteriors reflect attempts to mesh modern architectural vocabulary with Duke's traditional Collegiate Gothic and Georgian styles.

"What we're doing," says law professor Thomas Metzloff, who worked closely with planners on the law school project, "is re-conceptualizing how a student lives in an academic building." The result is that "academic" buildings are no longer designed for purely academic purposes. And, likewise, residential or socially oriented buildings are often instilled with some academic or practical purpose.

Among the most obvious manifestations of the new approach to interior space are the large public and social areas that have been created around campus. Seeds of this idea can be seen as early as 1994, with the large atriums in the Sanford Institute of Public Policy and Levine Science Research Center. But the intended use and purpose of these kinds of spaces have been expanded and refined as they've been incorporated into structures like the von der Heyden Pavilion, a glass-enclosed cafÈ located between Bostock and Perkins libraries, the Fuqua School of Business' Fox Center, and the large atriums in the Nasher Museum and the Pratt School of Engineering's Fitzpatrick Center.

University architect John Pearce says that some large spaces have always existed as part of Duke's identity--Baldwin Auditorium and the union building on East Campus, for example, and the Great Hall and Gothic Reading Room on West--but the traditional layout of the university assumed a certain pattern to student life. Typically, academic buildings housed lecture halls, classrooms, laboratories, and offices. Libraries offered individual research and study space. It was left to the student center and the dormitories to host social activities.

In the new academic buildings, students can grab a coffee and study alone or in groups; faculty members can meet or dine informally with students between classes; and departments can host special functions in the evening. These "living-room spaces," as Pearce refers to them, entice "students to hang out there rather than retreat to their rooms." And that, in turn, helps meet the larger university goal, he says, of promoting the integration of faculty members and students and making it easier for them to work and socialize together.

On a Friday in late December, second-year business student Joe Spies is meeting a classmate, Jeff Barber B.S.E. '00, in Fuqua's new Fox Student Center to discuss plans for a business they hope to develop as they look toward graduation in the spring. The two sit opposite each other on leather sofas, propping their feet on a coffee table. Nearby, two law students are studying for an upcoming test. Beyond them, two women sit at a table against the windows, taking an exam online. In the center of the room, caterers chat as they set tables for an evening reception for the Executive M.B.A. Program.

Spies, who had considered attending architecture school before deciding on business, says he can't help noticing the way the building's design affects his academic experience. Business school is not just about classroom learning, he says, but about making connections. "I was very interested in finding a place where people intersect, chaos occurs, and great ideas are generated."

The Fox Center does just that, he says, by providing a central place where people naturally congregate. The large, open main floor of the Fox Center comprises a dining room with tables, chairs, and sofas that double as seating and workspace; an indoor patio used for receptions; a food-service area; and a twenty-four-hour snack bar. "This isn't designed as a dining area," observes Spies, glancing at his surroundings. "This is a social space that happens to have dining."

Jill Worthington, Fuqua's associate dean for finance and administration, says the new building also encourages interaction by making it easy for students to stick around. Everything they need is here in one place, she says, noting that the center even includes lockers, changing rooms, and showers for students returning from a midday jog through Duke Forest or preparing for an interview.

In a similar fashion, the Fitzpatrick Center's cafÈ and large enclosed atrium have given the Pratt School a new sense of self. "From my perspective, Pratt is now a place," says Robert L. Clark, Thomas Lord Professor of engineering and senior associate dean of research for the engineering school. "Sure, the school existed before. But there were no spaces for students to gather between classes, to study, to work in groups. [Fitzpatrick] creates a place for that type of activity."

The type of public space provided by the Fitzpatrick Center's atrium, and a planned entrance hall in the French Science Center, is especially useful in the context of those buildings' focus on interdisciplinary research. In addition to the large public spaces, architects worked to integrate features such as comfortable seating and dry-erase boards in the hallways to help stimulate "intellectual collisions"--planned or impromptu--among faculty members and students of the various disciplines housed there.

Administrators also re-evaluated the way that space is apportioned in these buildings. Under the old system, faculty members were assigned offices and labs based on department. In Fitzpatrick, assignments are based on research interests, Clark says. As director of the Center for Biological Inspired Materials and Material Systems, he oversees a wing of the building that houses researchers from the biomedical-engineering and mechanical-engineering and material-sciences departments, whose research interests overlap. The new building is also designed to further eliminate boundaries between the school's students and faculty members by intermingling labs used for teaching and for research. "That has always been our philosophy," Clark says. "It is just evident now in the way space is laid out."

The Nasher Museum of Art

 The Nasher Museum of Art

 

Realizing that students are collaborating more than ever, planners have integrated not only large public spaces, but also smaller, more intimate gathering places into many of the new buildings. The Bostock Library, for example, has nine group-study rooms, where students can meet to collaborate on homework assignments and projects, and seven larger reading rooms, as well as informal study spaces in the corridors that run through the archway between Perkins and Bostock. Like the new stacks, these spaces are well-stocked with comfortable, upholstered furniture, painted in warm colors, and blessed with both natural light and wireless access. They stand in welcome contrast to the Perkins stacks--initially designed to be a closed-stacks system--with their concrete floors and fluorescent lighting.

Throughout the planning stages, library officials and architects focused on the challenge of maintaining the library's relevance in a culture characterized by the rise of the Internet, laptop computers, and wireless communications. Now that students engaged in research can access a wealth of resources--sitting at a desk in a dorm room or a table in Satisfaction, an off-campus hangout--planners realized that, to draw them in, the library would have to evolve beyond its traditional functions of simply providing books and research materials.

So far, the new space has proved effective. Thomas Wall, director of public services for the library system, says that library use on campus is already 40 percent higher than during the same period last year; circulation is up 30 percent. The group-study rooms, in particular, have become so popular that students say they have trouble finding one that's unoccupied. As a result, library officials are rethinking plans for the upcoming renovation of Perkins Library in order to add more of those kinds of spaces.

As Duke's new buildings take on functions vastly different from their primary purpose--or more accurately, seek to serve that purpose in new ways--structures that are very different in theory develop surprising similarities. Just as a library is no longer solely a place to store books and study in silence, a dormitory now provides much more than just housing. The new Bell Tower Residence Hall includes two classrooms and numerous study rooms, as well as a Duke police substation and a branch of student health services.

Likewise, the new Nasher Museum of Art is more than a place to display paintings and sculpture. Much of the early praise for the Nasher has been a response to its soaring glass atrium and the elegant gathering place that it encloses. It's "almost like an Italian piazza, where coming is an exciting experience." observes Anne Schroder, an associate curator.

But she and other museum officials hope that the excitement will extend to the spaces created within the museum to accommodate teaching and research in ways the old museum could not. For formal class meetings and lectures, the museum boasts a small, wood-paneled lecture hall and a seminar room with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. In the Nasher's basement are three large storage rooms devoted to objects, paintings, and works on paper, respectively, but also equipped with space to host classes of fifteen students for up-close viewings of art that would otherwise be shelved awaiting display.

This semester, ZoÎ Kontes, a visiting assistant professor of classical studies, is making good use of the rooms for her class on Greek art and architecture. She knows firsthand the benefit of these types of spaces. As a doctoral student in old-world archaeology and art at Brown University, she made an important discovery, thanks to similar facilities at Brown's neighbor, the Rhode Island School of Design.

She was assigned to study a fragmentary Roman statue thought to be a copy of a Greek Diadoumenos, an athlete putting on a headband. But after examining the piece up close, she realized that it had been wrongly identified.

"Being able to see an ancient object that's not enclosed in a glass case, or even one you can actually hold, is really exciting for students," she says. "It gives you a connection with the objects in a more real way."

Hugh A. Westbrook Building (Divinity School Addition)

 Hugh A. Westbrook Building (Divinity School Addition)

 

Just as the new buildings feature a melding of uses--academic, social, and residential--their facades represent a blending of different aesthetics and periods. The aim is to complement Duke's traditional stone-clad, Collegiate Gothic look with more contemporary materials and styles. It's an attempt to keep everything looking like Duke, while at the same time balancing the budget--building a proper Collegiate Gothic building these days is almost prohibitively expensive.

For those buildings that are on or adjacent to the main quad--Bostock and the divinity-school addition--planners decided it was worth the extra expense to recreate the look of the surrounding buildings. In the case of the divinity-school addition, this included crafting eleven limestone finials to complement those on Duke Chapel. Each finial took 280 hours to complete. Architects worked hard to make the new building attach seamlessly onto the north end of the original 1926 structure, and even up close it is difficult to determine where the old stone work ends and the new begins.

Expense aside, those buildings are probably the easiest to design, says Peter Romeyn '71, a staff engineer in the university architect's office. "You don't have to equivocate very much when it comes to deciding what is the appropriate architecture. When you start drifting way from the main quad, you are presented with architectural challenges and how to use contemporary materials in a way that reaches back to Collegiate Gothic architecture."

One of the biggest challenges in this process has been finding an adequate substitute for the Duke stone that is a large part of the traditional Duke look but is also a large part of the expense of replicating it. Over the last ten years, Duke's Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III, Pearce, and others have worked to develop a mix of bricks, the colors of which complement those of Duke stone. Dubbed "Duke brick," the mix is cheaper and available in greater quantities than is Duke stone. "What we were trying to do," Trask explains, "was to get a material where if you didn't know any better and you were a couple of hundred yards away, you couldn't really tell whether it was stone or brick."

Duke brick, earlier versions of which can be seen in buildings like the Schwartz-Butters building and the Wilson Center, is prominent in the facades of several of the new structures. The Fitzpatrick Center is mainly faced in Duke brick, as is the back of the new library. Keohane Quad is largely Duke brick, but designers made economic use of Duke stone on the McClendon Tower at the southeast corner and in decorative touches on the archways, in order to further tie the building to the rest of campus.

"When you walk through the tunnels at Keohane Quad, you can touch Duke stone," Trask says. "It was more important to get it down where you can touch it than up on the top where you can see it. We're just trying to think how limited use of stone can have the largest impact."

At the law school, it was as simple as a Duke stone wall at its Science Drive bus stop to complement the new Duke brick facade that recently replaced its old red-brick front. "Maybe no one outside the law school notices it," law professor Metzloff says, "but I can't tell you how many law students and professors have come in and said they love that wall." The new facade itself, as well as Rubenstein Hall and a planned addition that would bring Fuqua out to Science Drive, would never be confused with Collegiate Gothic, but architects have used towers and windows in ways that suggest the older style.

Trask and other university officials are enthusiastic about the way the new buildings have come together, creating through their common elements a sense of coherence that is noticeably absent in the red brick buildings along Science Drive, the squat Edens Quadrangle, and the precast concrete Bryan Center. With Fitzpatrick, Bostock, and the divinity addition, in particular, Trask says, "we were trying to build a new quadrangle with buildings that looked like somebody thought about them going together, as contrasted, for example, with Hudson, Teer, and the LSRC, where it looks like people were never talking to each other."

The construction of the new quad has created what Trask believes may become a new central corridor through West Campus, running from the main quad down through the new library archway, past the divinity addition, and through a second archway connecting Fitzpatrick's east and west wings to Science Drive.

It has also revealed views never seen before. When engineering professor Clark sits at his desk in the east wing of Fitzpatrick, built on ground that used to be heavily wooded, the window behind him perfectly frames the east side of Duke Chapel. In the late afternoon, the setting sun will drop behind the Chapel's north end. "I don't always notice it," he admits. "But when I have visitors, I open up the blinds."