United States

Duke University

LOCATION
Durham, United States
ARCHITECT
Grimshaw Architects + Front Inc.
YEAR
2016
PRODUCTS
KeraShape

Duke University

A place to eat an meet

Grimshaw’s transformation of Duke University’s West Campus Student Union building in Durham, North Carolina, USA, is one of the eight shortlisted projects for the AJ100 Building of the Year Award 2017, organised by the Architect’s Journal. The winner of this prize will be announced in London on June 14. Grimshaw’s project comprises the careful renovation of an existing neo-gothic building, designed in the late 1920s by Julian Abele from the Horace Trumbauer office, and an expansion, which forms the core of the complex. This central piece is an atrium made of glass, steel, and ceramic fins, manufactured by AGROB BUCHTAL, the German specialist in architectural ceramics and façade elements.

West Union contains community facilities for Duke University’s students, faculty, and alumni, with a large dining space as its social epicenter. This environment to ‘eat and meet’, in the parlance of the university, hosts 13 different kitchens and operates as an upscale, academic version of the food court usually found in shopping malls. This social hub of the campus is designed by Grimshaw Architects, a global practice, founded by Nicholas Grimshaw in 1980. This project was designed at Grimshaw’s New York office, with facade consultancy from Front Inc

The most prominent part of this extensive project is a transparent atrium which has replaced the central part of the original building. The glass, steel, and ceramics of the atrium are perfectly in scale with the existing building, which forms a U-shaped embrace of it. Architecturally speaking, the atrium is completely different in its expression from West Union’s sturdy yet elegant neo-gothic design, which was a preferred style for American university buildings well into the twentieth century. The new addition in no way resembles the existing architectural landscape, but despite its distinctive expression, it manages to blend in naturally.

Instead of opting for total transparency, which would have maximised the contrast with the existing neo-gothic brick and stone massiveness, Grimshaw has opted to delicately trim it back, by framing the glass in steel and ceramics. The ceramic fins are a relatively small part the new building, yet they play a particularly crucial one in its overall effect. From many perspectives, these terracotta fins seem to close the side elevations, which only completely open up when viewed straight on. Open yet visually closed, the architecture of the façades is an apt metaphor for how this transformation manages to balance old and new.

 

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Photographer: Duke photography