Renewing Duke's Physical Campus for Tomorrow

Duke focuses on maintaining the legacy of buildings, enhancing facilities and landscape

An early rendering of the Reuben-Cooke Building’s entry with an area devoted to Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke.

Supporting the Vision for Duke's Second Century

Duke University's $100 million gift from the Duke Endowment will expand access and deepen community engagement.

The Duke Endowment awarded Duke University $100 million to support the university’s vision for the next 100 years of higher education, the largest single award in the university’s history. Part of the award will honor Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke’s legacy by making the building that bears her name a model for 21st century teaching and learning modernize and reconfigure the building on West Campus to support collaborative and interdisciplinary learning.

The work will include replacing the roof and antiquated mechanical, electrical, plumbing and telecommunications systems. Also, modern classrooms for group learning will be added along with more airy common spaces. The lobby will feature a permanent display sharing the story of the building’s namesake, Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, one of Duke’s first Black undergraduate students.

“Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke cared a lot about good instruction, a strong education and pedagogy,” said Bennett, who has a lab in the building. “It’s appropriate that we start this renewal with her building.” 

In the past decade, Duke has added or expanded buildings such as the Brodhead Center, Student Wellness Center, and Wilkinson Engineering Building. Now, older buildings, and Duke’s goal of carbon neutrality, have led the university to focus on renewing existing science and academic facilities – updating exteriors, interiors and building systems – to position Duke for a dynamic and sustainable future while honoring its historical legacy. The strategy ensures campus facilities fulfill programmatic needs and Duke’s climate commitment.

“Building renewal planning was underway prior to 2020, but disruption brought on by the pandemic offered an opportunity to focus on how we can be better stewards of what we have,” said Duke Facilities Management Director of Planning & Design Adem Gusa.

Combined with similar projects making utilities more sustainable and enhancing campus landscapes, the next five years will see Duke begin to restore and modernize pieces of its campus for the long term.

Reimagining an Academic Hub

By adding spaces such as a cafe, Lilly Library will keep pace with the changing needs of the community. Image courtesy of Duke University Libraries.

Since 1927, Lilly Library’s wood-paneled reading rooms have been charming study spaces for students on East Campus. For over 40 years, it was the Woman’s College Library and later became the East Campus Library after merging with Trinity College. In 1993, it was partially renovated and renamed Lilly Library. Since then, it has been the main academic support hub for Duke’s first-year students.

As students’ needs evolved, the functionality, flexibility and technology at Lilly has not kept up with contemporary standards.

“Students have a mix of needs, and the current library just isn’t meeting that mix,” said Joseph Salem, the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian.

Supported by a pair of $10 million gifts from the Duke Endowment, a comprehensive renovation of Lilly Library will begin in 2024. The project preserves the charm of spaces, such as the Thomas Reading Room, while renovations will increase space for studying, collaboration and events by nearly 15,000 square feet. There will be nearly 200 more seats at tables, study carrels and common areas, as well as new collaboration spaces, an Innovation Co-Lab maker space, and gallery for community events.

A café, like von der Heyden Pavilion on West Campus, as well as an outdoor terrace, will serve as gathering spaces.

“Students should feel that the library can grow with them,” Salem said. “At the earliest stage, we want them to get a sense of what collections look like, what technology is available, and how a library can be a vibrant social place as well as a scholarly place.”

Advancing Energy Efficiency

Powered by two plants on West Campus, Duke's hot water system offers a more efficient alternative to the steam system that has heated campus for nearly a century. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

For community members in the Fuqua School of Business and Law School buildings, the upcoming switch from steam to hot water as a heating source may go unnoticed. But for Duke’s carbon footprint, the results of switching these and other campus buildings to this more efficient heating system will mark a quiet-but-important step toward sustainability.

Duke’s steam system – which uses natural-gas fueled boilers to circulate steam through roughly 23 miles of pipe – has heated campus buildings for nearly a century. Steam remains vital to medical and research buildings for disinfecting instruments, but for the rest of campus, steam isn’t the future.

Since 2014, Duke has been expanding a system of new underground pipes that sends 150-degree water to buildings for heating, humidity control and domestic hot water. Fed by two West Campus hot water plants, the system meets buildings’ needs and requires 30% less energy than steam.

The hot water system supplies 26 buildings on West Campus, many of which had previously relied on steam. The transition of Fuqua, Law, and the Reuben-Cooke Building to the more efficient hot water system represents a significant move toward Duke’s goal of carbon neutrality by replacing existing systems with more efficient intelligent ones.

“This is the biggest on-campus reduction of greenhouse gases that can be done in the near future,” said Russell Thompson, Duke’s Interim Vice President of Operations and Executive Director of Utilities & Engineering Services for the Facilities Management Department.

Refreshed Heart of Campus

Always the heart of West Campus, Abele Quad is a welcoming and sustainable space. Photo courtesy of University Marketing & Communications.

Spilling out from the foot of Duke University Chapel between stone buildings, the grassy expanse of Abele Quad, named for Julian Abele, the Black chief designer of Duke’s campus, is the ceremonial and physical heart of Duke’s campus.

Roughly a decade ago, Duke began the process of reviving the beloved space.

In that time, accessible entrances and welcoming seating were added near the Brodhead Center and Perkins Library. Improved irrigation and drainage systems were installed beneath lawns, and permeable granite pavers were added to expand newly restored bluestone sidewalks.

The final push, which finishes in December, will leave the bus circle with new pavement, granite curbs and a refreshed center island, providing a cleaner, more verdant look that aligns with the quad’s original design.

The result of the Abele Quad renewal – a similar one is planned for East Campus Quad – will be a more accessible space to serve as a timeless focal point of a busy campus.

“We’re trying to both bring back the level of quality from the original work and update it,” said Duke University Landscape Architect Mark Hough. “We’re addressing storm water in a sustainable way. We’re picking plant material that’s more appropriate to the site and better adapted to the changing climate. We’re doing things that make the space more beautiful and more functional.”

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