Sometimes called “the Gothic Wonderland,” Duke University’s West Campus in Durham, North Carolina, is a storybook enclave. Designed by the office of Horace Trumbauer—under the direction of chief designer Julian Abele, one of the first influential African-American architects—and constructed between 1927 and 1932 (with the Olmsted Brothers overseeing the landscape), it is characterized by its bucolic quads and Collegiate Gothic architecture rendered in the local variegated Duke Stone. It is not a place that takes change lightly. 

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But, as one of the country’s most competitive universities, the school also knows the importance of staying current to attract the best students and is accustomed to adapting to the times, as it has with its recent reinvention of the historic West Campus Union building. Designed by the New York office of Grimshaw architects, the renovation and expansion transforms a creaky dining facility into a dynamic community center. “For us, there is an important relationship between the academic, residential, and social environments,” says Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs. “West Union is the nexus—where these three circles overlap.” The original building, completed in 1930 at the heart of the campus, was showing its age. The 200-foot-long Great Hall refectory and adjacent Cambridge Inn dining room may have been hallowed, but they were inflexible spaces, and much of the rest of the building was given over to grab-and-go food vendors and administrative offices. There was nowhere inviting to gather or linger. And it was impenetrable. “It was like a fortress,” says Mark Husser, Grimshaw’s partner in charge. “You couldn’t move through it.” 

For the building’s next chapter, the university hoped to reconceive it as a hub for students, faculty, and staff to convene in a variety of spaces—formal and informal. Putting food front and center by displaying preparation, using locally sourced ingredients, and engaging local chefs at 13 diverse venues—with offerings from Tandoor dishes to paella to soul food—draws students and encourages them to stay. The approach reflects the farm-to-table zeitgeist but was also shaped by a widely shared cultural experience. “In my house,” says Moneta, “every important family conversation was in the kitchen. There’s a little of that in our thinking as well. Where one eats is an important place for friendships and relationships and community to thrive.”

West Union is the focal point of a larger plan to reactivate this part of campus—through landscaping, infrastructure, and architecture. The project began with an invited competition that included Foster + Partners, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, and Shepley Bulfinch with James Carpenter—a clear indication of the university’s interest in the contemporary despite their embrace of the traditional, as well as a hint that it would probably substitute steel and glass for the ubiquitous stone. As revered as West Union had been—with its towers, clay-tile roofs, tracery, and limestone ornamentation—the love did not extend to the original volume that nestled within its core: a squat, flat-roofed rabbit warren housing a cafeteria servery. Grimshaw, which won the contract in 2012, removed this element, inserting a glass-­and-steel box into the remaining U-shaped structure. Though bold in its materiality, the new West Union “bows to the historic legacy,” notes project associate David Cook, pointing to the design’s attention to existing elements through framed views and juxtapositions, such as the dining balconies the team has suspended amid the oak trusses in the Great Hall and the Cambridge Inn. And the building is respectful with its scale: from the sacrosanct Chapel quad to the north, the extension is not visible.

“We inverted the Collegiate Gothic,” says Husser. “The building is transparent and is activated by the life inside. Because it sits at the middle of major circulation routes, we created two ground levels to allow people to pass through.” Students enter at the lower level and via bridges above into a soaring atrium, buzzing with activity. Visitors flow around and through the core, which is screened in louvered Western Red Cedar and ringed by a bazaar of food stalls called “The Market” and by glass-topped passages that link to the existing building on three sides. Glass-and-steel stairs and bridges lead to the balconies to the west and north and to the more compressed student-life areas—lounges and meeting rooms—in the east wing. Ample apertures enable views up, down, and across the interior, as undergraduates share meals or hunch over laptops, faculty meet over coffee, and maintenance workers break for lunch.

True to Grimshaw form, and in response to the historic precedent, the architects have put the structure on display by exposing more of it in their renovation, and also by revealing how the pieces come together in the new construction, notably with towering steel members, which frame the exterior and support the skylight-enclosure system as well as the curtain wall. Here structural glass fins tie into castellated steel columns, providing lateral bracing. Laminated with a ceramic frit, the fins also filter light, easing the transition from this bright, acoustically live space into the opaque, more hushed historic wings. To create the threshold between these spaces, the team punched openings in the dividing walls, which they designed to be extra-wide—7 feet—to hold the extensive mechanicals required by the numerous kitchens. Accommo­dating the services, given the constraints of the existing construction, was the biggest challenge, say the architects, who also excavated down 10 feet and out to the south, to meet the required needs. With the complex m/e/p systems and all the added ductwork and ventilation, Husser likens the process to designing a lab building. 

Just as the new West Union reflects the current attitude toward food preparation and dining, it also communicates Duke University’s perspective on education through interaction. The students clearly love the food, but the social element does not escape them, either. “It’s helping build the community we lost when we left the freshman dining hall,” says sophomore Maggie Finney. “And,” underscores her friend Hawa Tucker, “you run into everyone.”



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637 W 27 St, New York, NY 10001, USA


Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:

Mark Husser - Partner in Charge (RA)
David Burke - Principal (RA)
George Hauner - Associate Principal
Andrew Anderson - Associate Principal
David Cook - Associate (RA)
Mark Rhoads - Associate (RA)
Manuel Schmidt - Associate (RA)
Aimee Duquette - Senior Architect (RA)
Yunhee Jeong - Senior Architect (RA)
Michael Wilson - Senior Architect
Bec Wilkie - Architect
Zach Fine - Architectural Designer
Brooke Gasaway - Architectural Designer
Vivian Cheng - Architectural Designer
Konrad Sobon - Computational BIM Specialist

Martin Liepmann – Associate
James Kraus – Architect
Scott Petherick – Architect
Tiago Barros- Architect
Sarah Jazmine Fugate - Architect
Carla Smiley – Architectural Designer
Scott Segal – Architectural Designer
Serra Kiziltan – Architectural Designer


Engineers and consultants:

Landscape Architects - Reed Hilderbrand
Structural Engineering - Buro Happold Consulting Engineers
MEPFP - Vanderweil Engineers
Facade Consulting - Front Inc.
Food Service and Kitchen Design - Yui Design
Restaurant Branding and Interior Design Collaborator - Celano Design Studio
Civil Engineers - Stewart Consulting Engineers
Lighting - Tillotson Design
Acoustics\AV\IT - Jaffee Holden
Signage and Wayfinding - Two Twelve
Code and Fire Engineering - Jensen Hughes
Door Hardware - Glezen Fisher Group

Additional Consultants to Duke University

Kontek: Audio visual systems procurement and installation


RMF Engineering: Steam to hot water plant design in West Union Building


AEI Affiliated Engineers: West Campus precinct utility enabling project


Systemworcx: Leed consulting and building commissioning


Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates: Facade and Enclosure Construction Quality Review


General contractor:

Skanska USA



James Ewing Photography, 6463392654 



Structural System

Existing building structure is a mixture of cast in place concrete, brick, Duke stone bearing wall and steel frame. New building structure is cast in place concrete and steel frame.

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project: Architecturally exposed structural steel members were fabricated by Roschmann Steel and Glass

Exterior Cladding

Masonry: Duke stone, local stone from Duke quarry, INSTALLER: Cleve Wagstaff

Metal panels: Reynobond, INSTALLER: SBS Corporation

Metal/glass curtain wall: Enclosure System (glass and metal curtainwall, skylight system, exterior terracotta)
MANUFACTURER: Roschmann Steel and Glass

Rainscreen: Enclosure System (glass and metal curtainwall, skylight system, exterior terracotta) MANUFACTURER: Roschmann Steel and Glass

Moisture barrier: Sika; INSTALLER: Strickland Waterproofing


Membrane: Sarnafil, INSTALLER: Baker Roofing
Tile/shingles on existing building: Ludowici, INSTALLER: Baker Roofing
Existing roof restoration: Baker Roofing


Existing wood frame: Raynal Studios, INSTALLER: Raynal Studios
Metal frame windows - Non-Roschmann: Sprague and Old Castle, INSTALLER: SPS Corporation
Old Castle


Glass: Glass used in enclosure system: low iron, insulated, high performance
MANUFACTURER: Roschmann Steel and Glass


Entrances: Metal and glass entrance doors in enclosure system
MANUFACTURER: Ellison Bronze
INSTALLER: Roschmann Steel and Glass
Metal doors and glass entrance doors: CR Laurence Company, INSTALLER: SPS Corporation

Wood doors: Harring Stile and Rail, INSTALLER: Engineering Specialties
Interior Doors, Frames & Hardware: Engineering Specialties Co. Inc.

Sound control doors (such as at the Tower Mezz room): Kreiger STC Frame


Locksets: Yale, INSTALLER: Engineering Specialties Co. Inc.

Closers: Yale

Exit devices: Von Duprin

Pulls: Rockwood

Security devices: Dorma door controls

Other special hardware:
Tormax automatic door operator
Axis Cameras
Blackboard Card Readers and software

Interior Finishes

Acoustical ceilings: Ceilings Plus, INSTALLER: Acousti Engineering Co., FL
Wood ceilings: ACGI

Suspension grid: ACGI

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: ISEC Inc.
Paints and stains: Sherwin Williams

Wall coverings: Maharam, Koroseal, Eykon

Paints and stains: Sherwin Williams

Solid surfacing: Corian

Floor and wall tile: Classic Stone Mongolian Black Granite flooring at interior street circulation spaces, Absolute Black Granite flooring at dining venues, Dal-Tile, Nemo, Porcelanosa in various dining venues; INSTALLER: David Allen

Resilient flooring: Stonhard, INSTALLER: Shields Incorporated

Carpet: Vorwerk; Carpet Concept;  Tsar for area rugs

Special interior finishes unique to this project:

Blackened steel metal panels - Shickel Corporation, INSTALLER: Shickel Corporation
Interior terracotta baquette system – NBK, INSTALLER: Sears Contract
Terrazzo: David Allen
Acoustical plaster: Boswaphon; Star Silent, INSTALLER: Bradleigh Applications, Inc
Restoration of existing wood ceiling trusses: Alkat Restoration
Interior Duke stone restoration: Stone Restoration of America
Interior wood core panels: Duratherm, INSTALLER: Roschmann Steel and Glass/BEES
Interior bridge walkways with glass flooring, railings and stainless steel fittings: Roschmann Steel and Glass/BEES
Glass tread and steel stair system: Roschmann Steel and Glass/BEES
Interior glass partitions: SPS Corporation

Proforated wood acoustical panel system (at Tower entrance): ACGI
Back-painted glass wall system: SPS / Garner Glass
Interior exposed architectural concrete: Stone Restoration of America
Restoration of existing limestone details: Stone Restoration of America
Salvage and reuse of existing limestone artifacts: Carolina Stone Setting Co.


Fixed seating: Dragonfly; INSTALLER: Dragonfly

Chairs: Dining furnishings: Andreu World; Beaufurn; Knoll.  Student Life furnishings: Knoll; Keilhauer; Andreu World; INSTALLER: CBI Interiors, Raleigh, NC

Upholstery: Knoll Textiles; Maharam; INSTALLER: CBI Interiors, Raleigh, NC

Other furniture: Custom fabricated furniture pieces - Wickham Solid Wood Studio and 21 Bridge Design



Interior ambient lighting: Artemide, Barn Light Electric, Boca Flasher, Baselite, BK Lighting, Cooper, Cree, Schoolhouse Electric, DLC Lumisheet, Edison Price, Electrix, Get Back Inc, Get Back Inc, Hatco, Troy, LED Linear, Optolum, Lithonia, Louis Poulsen, Luminare, Pinnacle, Creative Light Source, Renaissance, Saturnia, Selux, Tech, Urban Archaeology, USAI, Vode, Zumtobel,

Site Lighting: Acolyte, 1213 Studio, BK Lighting, Boca Flasher, Erco

Exterior: Existing building, mounted fixtures were refurbished

Dimming system or other lighting controls: Lutron


Elevators/escalators: Otis


Water fountains, water saving fixtures

Low flow toilet fixtures: American Standard, Sloan


Energy management or building automation system: Siemens

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: Lighting Power Density (LPD) Reduction thru use of LED lighting
1.14 W/sf Whole Building LPD

Daylight Sensors for Lighting: Sensors located where appropriate

Demand Control Ventilation: OA rates reduced during non-peak hours in areas served by AHU-2A & AHU-2B

Airside Economizers: Full enthalpy economizers in all air handling units

Supply Air Temperature Reset: Cooling supply air temperature reset higher by 10°F under minimum cooling load conditions

Domestic Hot Water Preheat: 81% of the domestic hot water heating load will be handled by steam condensate heat recovery system

Water cooled kitchen equipment (condensing units)

Variable frequency drives on fans

High performance/low velocity ductwork design (most locations)

Low flow plumbing fixtures (water savings feature)

Regenerative power elevators.

The braking of the elevator is provided by the motor allowing the motor to act as a generator.

High efficiency Low E insulated glazing for new glass enclosure
Horizontal glass fins at south façade to reduce solar heat gain and glare

Exterior terracotta fins for solar shading

Motorized solar shading at skylight glazing

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project: Horizontal glass fins in curtain wall system - reduces glare increasing visual comfort; reduces solar heat gain; resolves horizontal wind loading on façade.

High efficiency laminagted and fritted skylight glass - reduces solar heat gain.

Interior glass tread stairs - more daylight is brought into Interior Street circulation space.

Exterior glass railing system with integrated lighting.

Interior terracotta with integrated acoustical absorbtive material (manufacturer information above).

Custom manufactured kitchen equipment, such as wood burning Fire Pit, copper-clad Tandoor ovens, wood burning pizza oven, crepe makers and gelato station at Cafe, Chef's Kitchen demonstration kitchen with aV capability for special event programming and student culinary classes.