A Dungeon-like Dormitory Is Revamped to Promote Academic Success and Overall Wellness

Students used to describe Edens Quad as dark and dungeon-like. Considered the least desirable Duke University campus housing, the complex was also criticized as being disconnected from the rest of campus with “nothing special” for residents. Edens Quad was constructed in the mid-1960s out of Hillsborough stone embedded in cast-in-place concrete. Although located in a picturesque part of West Campus, the tall narrow windows and hard-to-find entry doors made the residence hall feel uninviting. In fact, students sometimes referred to the complex as “the fortress.”

Though the project had a relatively modest budget, the goals were ambitious. The university challenged the design team at Clark Nexsen to create more community spaces, increase daylighting into the existing spaces and provide a positive overall environment for the students. Through a series of design strategies, the renovation of Edens Quad successfully transformed one of the least desirable places to live on campus into a sought-after housing choice for Duke students.

A study and gaming pavilion provides a sense of arrival and a direct entry into Edens Quad on axis with the upper campus pedestrian path.

“From the start, we were very focused on creating concepts that contribute positively to students’ wellbeing on campus. The contrast between the buildings before and what they offer now—with all the added transparency and openness—has made a world of difference not just to students and residents, but to staff as well,” says Deb LoBiondo, interim dean for Residence Life at Duke University, Durham, N.C.

A Community Gateway

Located on the edge of West Campus, the existing footprint of Edens Quad lacked a direct entry point, and getting to and from the area was cumbersome.

LoBiondo explains: “There were a lot of barriers. For example, a stairway from the adjacent building led to a dead-end wall at Edens. Students were inconvenienced by several exterior stairways, a parking lot and a stream running through the site.”

One of the breakthroughs in the project—no pun intended—was the idea to insert a large pedestrian pathway through the structure of one of the buildings. Puncturing one of the “fortress” walls and extending the structure connected the existing campus axis into the complex’s interior quad. The reconfigured entry created a new threshold with a direct connection between the upper quads that has greatly increased campus connectivity. The gateway leads to an upgraded outdoor terrace that has contributed to building a sense of community for residents and activated the outdoor areas between the residence halls.

The design required demolishing portions of the existing first and second floor slab system. As a result, the residential hall was expanded and opened up, using structural steel framing to create the new entry portal. The expansion also led to improved accessibility; it created space for an elevator to be installed.

Shared Amenities

The addition also supported the strategy of creating shared amenity spaces for the complex. The existing cluster of buildings were disjointed and had small, insular amenity spaces. Repurposing these small spaces into new bedrooms helped maintain the original bed count. The shared amenities were relocated in two strategic places: the first being the study/gaming pavilion located at the main quad threshold and the second being the multipurpose room located adjacent to the quad lawn. For an added sense of connectivity, commons rooms were placed at the main entry of each dorm to provide shared living space that can accommodate entertainment, study, gathering, dining and social functions for residents.

Promoting Wellness

BEFORE: Edens Quad was constructed in the mid-1960s out of Hillsborough stone embedded in cast-in-place concrete. Although located in a picturesque part of West Campus, the tall narrow windows and hard-to-find entry doors made the residence hall feel uninviting.

Having access to outdoor spaces and supportive resources plays a major role in promoting positive mental health, academic success and overall wellness in students. The design team wanted to capitalize on Edens Quad’s beautiful, tree-lined location on campus to make it a place where students want to be. To achieve this vision, the team carried out several design interventions that prioritize student wellness and offer supportive resources for staying healthy—mentally and physically.

To create an indoor/outdoor connection, the multipurpose space adjacent to the quad lawn was extended and outfitted with a retractable wall that opens up to an outdoor space for flexibility and open-air exercise activities. This also provides programs with an alternative outdoor option and access to green space with a variety of seating options for dining, socializing and studying.

LoBiondo comments:“The two-way bump-out where we created the group fitness room has been an amazing asset for us. We collaborated with Duke Recreation to have eight classes a week, including kickboxing, barre and yoga, that were taught—pre-COVID, of course—out of that space.”

Since the project was completed, Duke Housing decided to convert two of the first level study areas into office spaces for the residence coordinator and academic guide. They credited the flexibility of the layout with making this possible. The proximity of these new offices fosters a partnership between residence life and academic affairs by giving students a direct, onsite support system.

Addressing Challenges

Connecting the steel framing to the existing cast-in-place concrete frame for the addition posed a challenge for the team. The process required careful analysis of the existing concrete beams and columns at these locations. Using the original construction drawings, each slab, joist, girder, column and foundation was evaluated to determine its ability to support the proposed loads. The design team used this information to develop location-specific repairs that prevented any negative impact to the architecture of the existing buildings.

About the Author

Chris Brasier,FAIA,LEEDAP & Shann Rushing,AIA,LEEDAPBD+C
Chris Brasier FAIA, LEED AP, leads Clark Nexsen’s Higher Education practice and serves as a design director within the firm. and Shann Rushing, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is a principal at Clark Nexsen who has focused his career on the design, management, and construction of higher-education and civic projects.

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