North Carolina, USA
Centerbrook Architects and Planners in collaboration with Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects have designed the Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center Duke University in North Carolina, a complex of four buildings that were conceived as a pedestrian village within a woodland and organized around a central court and wood cloister.
This design maintains Duke’s identity as a “University in the forest,” as it concentrates on built development to optimize the surrounding woods to be a sustainable and continuous matrix of flora and fauna.
Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center Duke University has recently been awarded a 2022 International Architecture Awards Honorable Mention by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.
The project combined new construction with the historic renovation of Forlines House to surround a large grass courtyard, an opening in the Duke forest to accommodate large gatherings.
Highlighting the Karsh Alumni & Visitors Center is the arresting new 20,200-square-foot events building with striking modern glass and stone walls that hint at Gothic traditions with vertical fenestration, cast stone panels, and a base of Duke stone that is quarried nearby.
The events building features ample meeting spaces, exhibit areas, a café,m and visitor support.
To further its flexibility, the building connects to a smaller, glass meeting pavilion
Broken into courts and pavilions, the place has a human scale, comfortably serving both large and small groups.
The courtyard and buildings reflect Duke’s history and character, but through modern construction.
Duke stone (quarried locally) is the exterior base for the large event building with precast stone above, as seen throughout the rest of Duke’s campus.
The exterior masonry wings contrast with the event building’s central steel and glass pavilion; this juxtaposition is reversed in the attached meeting pavilion, with glass wings off a solid center.
Window glass throughout is tinted and fritted to prevent bird strikes and reduce solar heat gain.
Wood was used inside and out as structural and finish elements to enhance the connection between the built and natural environment, stressing Duke’s long history as a biophilic university.
The visible interior makes the institutional welcome, warm, and inviting.
Wood glulam arches hold up zinc-clad roofs, reminiscent of hand-carved columns and beams on campus.
Nootka cypress brackets and arches of the arcades are woven together for delicate strength.
Veneered paneling of walls and furnishings (using Duke’s own white oak) are perforated by CNC machines in patterns of historic Duke windows.
These, along with wood ceilings, hide acoustic blankets.
Next door, the Forlines House, is an historic preservation.
Its residential spaces have been restored for public meetings and offices.
The office building is clad in a dark “Duke brick” that is complementary to the stone on the neighboring structures and helps disguise the mass.
Wrought iron railings along its interior stairs play with Gothic patterns against wood ceilings.
The surrounding terraces of bluestone at the entry and arcades are flush with interior floors for accessibility.
This is made feasible by hidden ground gutters below the stone that also collect run-off from arcade roofs and the central court.
Site storm water drains to a campus-wide bio-pond where it is cleaned before returning to nature.
Project: Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center Duke University in North Carolina
Architects: Centerbrook Architects and Planners LLC.
Landscape Architects: Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects
Design Team: Mark Simon and Alan Paradis
General Contractor: LeChase Construction Services
Client: Duke University
Photographers: Peter Aaron/OTTO