Duke University Crown Commons

Birdseye — Courtesy of James Ewing
Exit fullscreen
Exit map

Crown Commons is at once a new destination on campus — a place to gather, to collaborate, to refresh — and a critical new pedestrian passage through an evolving campus.

The University has rebuilt a complex, multi-level, back-of-house zone, into a vibrant student life district for its West Campus. The epicenter of this renewal is Crown Commons, where mature trees and rain gardens structure space for many types of social activities, from communal meals to seminar classes to solitary study. The project is the result of interdisciplinary collaboration with Grimshaw, James Carpenter, ArcOps, and the University to create the Brodhead Center student union. Reed Hilderbrand has also completed numerous projects adjacent and related projects on nearby Abele Quad.

Stormwater from roofs and paved surfaces is directed to irrigate and inundate raingardens planted with sweetbay magnolia, native grasses, and wild blueberry. A grove of bald cypress trees is supported with structural soils designed to maximize tree health and longevity. A native woodland planting including oaks, tulip poplar, and dogwood creates a visual and sonic buffer between the adjacent Kilgo residence and Crown Common. Louvered wood feature walls define the pub and lounge areas which are diversely furnished with custom benches, large picnic tables, upholstered chairs and sofas, cafe seating, and Duke-blue Adirondack chairs. At night the plazas are transformed when a constellation of in-ground lights, as well as uprights, are illuminated. The Duke community uses the commons simultaneously and in different ways, day and night.

Artist James Carpenter created the sculptural bridge linking the Brodhead Center to Abele Quad and the core of West Campus. Prismatic glass lenses inserted within white concrete coffers channels daylight into the spaces area below the bridge. As people pass on the bridge above, light dapples across this important new outdoor living room.


Durham, NC




3 acres




  • 2018 Excellence in Landscape Architecture, Society of College & University Planners (General Design)
  • 2018 Merit Award for Design, Boston Society of Landscape Architects
  • 2019 Jury’s Choice Award for Outstanding Achievement in Integrated Planning and Design, Society of College & University Planners
  • “An Award-Winning Landscape,” College Planning & Management , July/August, 2019
  • Show More
  • Show Less