“Wonderfully precise, and has an interesting clarity to it. It was really well studied.”
– 2018 Awards Jury
Landscape architecture is the primary, galvanic presence unifying Duke’s new student life precinct. Between 2007 and 2017, one landscape architect brought consistent design leadership and contextual sensitivity to five individual projects executed in collaboration with eight architects to transform a disparate collection of program nodes, utilitarian infrastructure, historic quads, and campus pathways into a coherent district. With a nuanced reading of historic fabric and design intention, the landscape architect led the renewal of Duke’s iconic but depleted Olmsted Brothers-designed West Quad, integrating contemporary uses and advancing a holistic horticultural approach to revitalizing its grand canopy and broad lawns for another generation. To transform an adjacent, underutilized courtyard and bustling service area into an animated campus center, the landscape architect leveraged historic campus materials and typologies while advancing a contemporary vernacular oriented around cultivating community and student engagement. Over the past decade, these efforts have realized a networked and vital campus precinct, one that finds fertile ground for student life in the juxtaposition between legacy landscapes and contemporary uses.
▲连续的平台从标志性的哥特式拱门下一路延伸，标志着历史悠久的Abele广场向现代化校园公共空间的过渡。A continuous terrace flows through the iconic gothic arches, marking the transition from the historic Abele Quad to the contemporary student commons beyond.
学校的西广场是由Olmsted兄弟和Horace Trumbauer Architects的Julian Abele于1920年代共同设计。宽阔的道路和被高大的橡树环绕着的中央草坪共同为广场赋予了尺度感和厚重感。广场的边界种植着大面积的绿植，平衡了周围哥特式建筑复杂精致的外观。虽然广场在近一个世纪以来都是校园中最重要的聚会和日常活动场所，但由于长时间的过度使用以及维护保养的缺乏，广场景观的美观度和质量都有着明显的下降。
▲延伸的校园：西广场从原本独立的十字形平面转变为一个与周围林地紧密交织的复杂区域。An Expanding Campus: West Quad has evolved from its self-contained cruciform plan into a complex campus woven with its surrounding woodland.
▲传承与更新：Abele广场上的橡树群正不断衰退。健康的土壤、细致的土壤分级和改良的排水系统将为草坪和树木重新注入活力。Legacy and Renewal: The character-defining Oaks of Abele Quad were in decline. Healthy soils, subtle re-grading, and improved drainage renew the lawn and invigorate the trees.
▲连接当代校园生活的网络：景观空间的连续性得到了增强，在校园社区内形成了一个7天24小时不间断的活动枢纽。Networks for Contemporary Student Life: Enhanced connectivity and a network of landscape spaces that support active program create an armature for 24/7 campus community.
▲通达且活跃：如今，一系列平台连接了校园的建筑群，从广场下降至周围的林地。一个布局整齐的五车道的装卸区被设置在广场的下方（图中左边）。Connected and Animated: Today, terraces connect buildings and step down from the quad to the surrounding woodland. An organized, five-bay loading dock is contained beneath the plaza (left).
▲透明度与融合度：从食堂内部看，双层的公共区域提供了活动和集会空间，并与景观和建筑形成无缝连接。Transparency and Integration: Viewed from within the dining hall, the two-level commons is a space of movement and gathering, seamlessly linking the landscape and architecture.
▲提高能效：硬质底层内的排水系统使Abele广场的土壤状况得到了有效改善（上图）；大规模的过滤设备能够有效控制从公共区域到“深洞”的径流量（下图）。Improving Performance: An integrated approach provides drainage through hardpan and reinvigorates the soils of Abele Quad (above); an expressive set of devices filter and manage peak flows from the commons to the hollows (below).
▲功能性与活力并存：广场边缘的植被原本已经退化（下图），经过土壤改善工程和灌溉之后，植被景观展示出了全新的活力和多样性。Functional and Vibrant: Formerly entirely depleted (below), the perimeter beds have new engineered soils and irrigation to support a diverse and seasonally vibrant planting.
▲历史性的框架和当代化的置入：在Olmsted兄弟最初的规划方案中，种满绿植的草坪被路径环绕。基于这一既有框架，新的方案在恢复后的花池中间置入了具有私密感的集会空间。Historic Framework and Contemporary Insertion: The Olmsted Brothers’ original plan for the quad framed open lawn with dense planting. Intimate gathering spaces are organized within the revitalized planting beds.
▲校园公共空间：多层级的公共广场将餐饮、社交空间、管理空间和交通空间整合在20英尺的高度变化中，从而成为校园的新核心。左上图展示了项目实施前的窄桥和景观。Student Life Commons: Integrating dining, social gathering, managed service, and connectivity across 20 feet of grade change, this multi-level commons has become a new heart of campus. The landscape and narrow bridge before (above).
▲活跃的环境：一体化的照明方案统一了光照的质量并调整了光照的强度，定义出集会空间的区域，在全天都充满人气。An Active Environment: An integrated lighting plan for the precinct unifies light quality, modulates intensity to define gathering places, and provides a sense of occupation at all hours.
▲连接与界定：抬升的人行天桥在花园的边缘形成了阴凉的休息空间。顶部的嵌入式玻璃灯罩能够在传输光线的同时投下有趣的光影。Connected and Defined: The elevated pedestrian bridge provides for shady relaxation at the garden’s edge. Glass lenses embedded overhead transmit light and playful shadows below. Intimate and Engaging
▲雨水花园和归化植物园定义了广场内部较小的空间，适用于非正式的校园活动。Rain gardens and naturalized plantations define smaller spaces within the plaza, encouraging a less formal kind of engagement.
▲功能性和表现力：雨水花园与广场融为一体，能够有效处理建筑周围的雨水并将其汇集到地下的大型蓄水池，便于进行再利用。Functional and Expressive: Rain gardens are integrated into the plaza, treating rainwater from surrounding buildings and feeding large below-grade cisterns for reuse.
▲全新的校园公共空间：花园中种植着与校园所在林地类似的植物，为校园边缘带来安静而惬意的休憩和放松空间。A New Campus Commons: The dense garden planting is drawn from the adjacent woodland palette providing quiet respite and refuge at the edges.
Together these five projects unite Duke’s revered landscape — the Gothic Abele Quad, which includes the iconic Duke Chapel, the library, student dining, administration, classrooms, and residence halls — with its most progressive and adaptive spaces, ones that support today’s ever-changing, often informal, and intensely connected student life. Individually they perform specific programmatic functions and together they inspire a palpable energy and sense of engagement at the core of West Campus. The renewed and enhanced landscape enacts the university’s dynamic ethos and advances an important institutional priority — to reshape the campus around the interrelated needs of contemporary learning and living.
Updating An Iconic Quad
The Olmsted Brothers and Julian Abele of Horace Trumbauer Architects designed West Quad in the 1920s. They created broad paths lined with majestic willow oaks to frame central lawn panels and provide the quad scale and gravitas. A pervasive planted border regularizes the surrounding variegated, gothic architecture and asserts larger campus geometries. While the quad remained the site of significant institutional gatherings and day-to-day student life for nearly a century, over time, overuse and the lack of restorative maintenance practices degraded the landscape’s appearance and performance.
The landscape architect, in collaboration with the campus landscape architect, developed a holistic renewal approach, aligning programmatic change, physical design updates, and horticultural management enhancements. The plan relocates frequent smaller events, a previously disproportionate stress on the landscape, to the adjacent new student life spaces and redistributes the timing of large events to facilitate recovery for the lawns between uses. Major quad paths, widened by a porous granite cobble verge, accommodate the increased masses of students flowing between classes without trampling lawn edges. Below the surface, soils have been enhanced to revitalize the iconic legacy oaks with better nutrient availability, improve infiltration and recharge, and resist compaction during significant campus-wide events still held on the central lawn. Contemporary program elements, such as bike parking, gathering spaces, and accessible entries, are sensitively inserted into replanted beds at the quad’s perimeter, further animating and activating the space while fitting into the overall spatial structure. The team also encouraged the university in the adoption of an organic landscape maintenance regime, building soils biology and structure to enhance resilience, with the goal of reducing maintenance inputs over time.
The landscape architect transformed functionality of the quad, retaining its historic structure and familiar spatial hierarchy while responding to and building upon the way students live and today’s campuses function. At the project’s culmination, Duke renamed the quad after Abele, one of the nation’s early prominent African American architects.
Designing for Contemporary Student Life
Beyond the threshold of Gothic arches signaling the edge of Abele Quad unfolds a contemporary multi-level student commons developed to expand and enhance an existing plaza at the nearby student center. Once accessed only by a narrow bridge, the plaza now connects to its context and comprises spaces for informal gathering, dining, study, events, and even relaxation and play. The commons is a continuous landscape where spaces integrate seamlessly with an entirely renovated dining facility, a new pavilion to house special events, and a new student health and wellness center. In addition, a once-sprawling back of house service yard is tamed into an efficient multi-dock loading area tucked neatly beneath the expanded plaza. Valuable space is repurposed for student activities and prioritizes a safe and comfortable pedestrian realm.
At the heart of the commons, an area for intimate gathering is defined by the dappled shade of a grove of bald cypress. The lowland trees emerge from a bluestone terrace that reinterprets the legacy material from the historic campus in a contemporary pattern, accentuating a continuous ground plane between the dining hall interior and the commons. A playful lighting strategy combines illumination from below and above to animate the space at all hours of the day.
A series of elevated plazas, stepped terraces, and oblique walkways span across three levels, making the student life buildings universally accessible and forging connections between the quad, adjacent athletics and graduate programs, and the larger native lowland landscape of ravines known as “hollows.” The project’s plant pallet engages a mix of native and naturalized species recognizing Duke’s setting within an ecologically rich forest which extends from the hollows that are within sight of the commons. Together these species create an immersive and deeply textured space, a bold shift from the tidy gardens of the legacy campus.
To protect and buffer the sensitive hollows from upland erosion and sedimentation, stormwater is captured from the surrounding roofs and paved plazas and directed into rain gardens through drains expressed in the bluestone surface. The rain gardens are didactic and also expressive, revealing the flow of water and providing diversity of scale to the plaza. Slowed and filtered, the treated stormwater flows to an underground cistern for temporary storage and is released gradually over time back to the hollows to mitigate peak flows.
As the idea for these critical student-life-related projects was first taking shape, the University convened a workshop of the eight different architects and planners who were each leading distinct but geographically connected projects. Present were key board members, administrators, faculty and staff. The landscape architect brought focus to the critical role of the campus landscape itself and promoted the potential that the landscape could be the singular force that unified these projects into a contemporary student life precinct at the heart of the campus.
Working with student life staff, the landscape architect 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 both individual students and groups to find and occupy their niche.
Documenting the spirit of the workshop, the landscape architect defined a series of planning principles with spatial and material strategies to bring both coherence and a unique character to the precinct. Key among these principles was the assertion that the hybrid and evolving character of contemporary student life would thrive in a landscape that celebrates the interplay and contrast of traditional and contemporary expressions.
Each of these projects contributes to Duke’s sustainability goals by reducing impacts and inputs. New trees create corridors of shade and reduce heat island effect. Stormwater is managed to prioritize groundwater recharge and treatment. High-performance soils and networked irrigation reduce potable water use. New organic management practices limit the quantity of petroleum-based fertilizer utilized to maintain the landscape.
While the timing and funding of each implementation project has been driven by specific institutional priorities, all realize a larger ambition to shape a sustainable, connected, and activated student precinct that celebrates the history of the campus while engaging a progressive view of student life and academic diversity. With a single landscape architect guiding these seemingly disparate projects, a coherent fabric bridging old and new, residential and academic, indoor and outdoor, and intimate and ceremonial has been created at the heart of Duke’s campus.