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A glimpse of the rich architecture of the West Campus

It’s sweet and easy to imagine yourself as the primary director of your actions and choices, but the environment around you built with brick and asphalt and very specific intentions exerts a control that’s shocking when you meet him up close.

You walk around the campus because there is a path leading you around the buildings that would protest with several tons of stone and steel if you tried to walk through them. You study where you study because, whether in your room or in a library or a student center, there has been violence against raw materials to store them in a formal place so that you are safe from rain, dangerous animals and the sun. Very few humans are not subject to the demands of the built environment, and despite all the benefits and luxuries they offer over the natural world, most people are generally content to meet these demands.

The structure and style of the built spaces are permeated with the passing of time, and as the Devil in Prada would remind you; If you protest that you think it has nothing to do with you, the very stones under your feet and the walls you are leaning against have been hand picked for you by some people in a certain room. Each day is another unique stage performance built by designers and architects, using variations on their script and choreography, and performed by anyone other than an ancient forest or other natural ecosystem.

This semester I’m going to write about what always urgently goes through my head while living here on West Campus, because soon I won’t be living here anymore and the thoughts will seem less urgent to me (not because I’ll be dead – just diploma). But because I don’t want this to be an unstructured, boring series of rabid rants and gushing praise, I’m giving it naturally entertaining bones that provide a particularly productive graft surface for analysis: the theater. The built environment generates stories, and stories attach flesh to the stage, script, choreography, actors, performances, and critics. Three intentions and three actions, three forms and three interactions of content – all six constitute a standard set for understanding design at Duke.

To whet your appetite for the following, and to turn my cumbersome abstractions into a few real-life examples, we’ll take a brief tour of the West Campus of Duke University at large to get a feel for what it looks like, smells and feels. the feel of the Theater of Duke Design.

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STAGE: Imagine you are a bird looking down and the earth looking up. The air between your two incarnations sits and flows over what is now West Campus, and the first thing you notice as The Land is your very interesting form. Rising up in the middle of the center of the earth, you are a perfect crest of outstretched arms falling steeply to either side above and below your elbows. At your highest elevation, a little west of true north where your head would be, a tobacco tycoon placed a 210-meter-high chapel nearly a century ago. Your arms are lined with what an American southerner who lived in New Jersey (JB Duke) outsourcing a Pennsylvania company (Trumbauer & Co.) thinks Gothic college cottages should look like. Your right arm carries a clock tower (Crowell) and a belfry (Kilgo) and houses some of the students who pass by the chapel, and your left arm their classrooms in the Academic Quadrangle (Language, Ancient Chemistry, Social Sciences and Reuben-Cooke). Your left fingers point to the School of Medicine and your right fingers point to Cameron Indoor Stadium, home to two of the university’s flagship businesses. Under your outstretched arms, your body as The Land descends into the gardens on your left and other dorms on your right, and behind your head it abruptly descends back down through Melinda’s gift and onto a tranquil pool that catches everyone. runoff. Your torso squeezes between the Allen Building and Few Quad, and your legs stretch out like the long, light C of Chapel Drive. You bird looking down, see a curious cruciform scene that handles the only thought of complete style surrounded by a dizzying group of continuous clauses in the form of the surrounding building complexes. Stuck in mid-flight over campus, you tilt your head and wonder how such a place is meant to be used.

SCRIPT: The writing language of the West Campus is Gothic, inflected by the Tudor and Academic dialects. A unified facade and parallel symmetries fluctuate with intricately detailed variations, and the script is densely referential; the seals of over thirty other schools are carved in low relief to decorate the exterior of West Union. James Buchanan wrote a chapel in the script to exert a godly influence on the cast of actors who roamed the cruciform campus, and early sketches show a ring of manicured trees now extinct around the campus, indicating an intention of monastic solitude for that place where you could eat, sleep and learn everything in a few minutes’ walk. West’s built environment was written to tell a story in a Gothic style of education, research, and life where you do both. We tell a lot of the same stories with this script today.

CHOREOGRAPHY: Walk on the blue slabs, go from the dormitory to the class to the meeting to the study group to the laboratory to eat and to the dormitory again. On busy days, dancing requires a few glamorous tricks to convince viewers of the magic a student conjures up to do it all. The first steps on stage are taken in your dormitory, the only real place of personal expression, and the tap dancing to academic requirements and homework takes you to learn in front of a lecturer and to work in the many libraries where your fingers take over the tapping on the stage of your keyboard. You learn the choreography by watching others at first, and despite its bewildering and confusing sequence and the wide variety of different expressions it can take in the athlete, engineer, business student, or humanist, you sink and have fun by the time you graduate.

ACTORS: Students, faculty, administrators, staff, gatekeepers and visitors all flood the stage every day to perform their respective works on their respective dances. Each act has a different distribution: the first mornings for the preparation of the guard, the midday for the agitation of the students to and from the classes, the afternoon for the administrative meetings and the studies of the students, the evenings for the students. meals and occasional recreation, and nights for wild athletics and parties for all. implied.

PERFORMANCE: Everyone from Churchill to Trask has noticed how we can shape our spaces, but it’s our spaces that shape us the most. The performance of the various actors on the West Campus stage, guided by script and choreography referenced from centuries of academic theater, is a complex combination of each individual’s expression in the role they are asked to play. To watch it all you have to do is pretend you’re a first-time visitor to campus, sit outside and observe – you’ll see how the angles of the campus and the elevations of the buildings call out lines. when someone forgets, and how the campus itself, from curtain to curtain, directs the performance.

OPINION: I’m almost embarrassed to quote what I’ve quoted so many times before, but you can’t get a better review of Duke than Huxley calling Duke “the most successful Gothic Revival essay I’ve ever known”. West Campus (within the relatively confined contours of the buildings of the Gothic paradigm) is a very unique achievement in design and implementation. Despite all the changes made to the buildings over the past twenty-five years, it remains by its structure and its continued use a place where learning and life come together, all within sight of His Majesty the Chapel. You can’t help but be challenged by the labyrinthine dormitories and the counter-intuitive interface devoid of overt cues of symmetry; but the challenge is probably part of the fun and certainly part of the charm.

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While tours with a smaller scope and clearer images are to follow, I hope the West Campus Theater’s extensive experience was at least interesting enough to pique your interest in the next one. I hope that by reading them you may be awakened to the specific and granular effects that a designed space has on your day to day actions, with the ultimate goal of engaging more critically in design and being more intentionally present in your spaces. Until then, I hope the jarring task of imagining your body as the crucified earth beneath West hasn’t stopped you from being the bird flying free above as well.

Nicholas Chrapliwy is a senior at Trinity. Its column “Duke by design” is broadcast every other Tuesday.


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