1920s and 1930s

In the mid-1920s, James B. Duke, along the committee he formed to oversee the building of Duke University, conducted an extensive search for the right architect for the new campus. The Office of Horace Trumbauer out of Philadelphia was eventually selected. Their choice for the landscape architect proved to be much easier. They hired the Olmsted Brothers – the second generation of the firm started by Frederick Law Olmsted – to design East and West Quads, as well as the grounds and path/roadway system for the rest of campus. The firm was far and away the leading landscape architectural firm in the country at the time, and hiring them helped to establish a commitment to excellence in design and planning that still exists at Duke today.

In 1938, Mary Duke Biddle endowed the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in memory of her mother. What had begun as a modest flower garden was transformed into a botanic garden with the creation of the nearly 12-acre Terrace Garden, designed by the landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman.

1950s – 1980s

The post-WWII growth period at Duke followed national trends of modern and postmodern design, along with a suburban, car-centric planning model. Many of the traditional campus planning patterns that had been established with the initial construction of the campus were abandoned to the detriment of the landscape and the overall environment of the campus. During the same period, a boom in science, engineering and medical curricula led to the construction of larger scale campus buildings and a rapid expansion of the medical center. Most of the new buildings were spread across the campus in an unplanned fashion, with no comprehensive vision of planning for the landscape. Buildings, along with their landscapes, were designed as islands, with little thought paid to the character of the broader campus.

During this time, there was not much landscape architecture of note. William Leong created a master plan for Duke Gardens in 1959, and subsequently designed the South Lawn, Azalea Court and the Anderson Street entrance in the early 1960s. The Olmsted firm was brought back in the mid-1960s to propose changes to the West Quad, but none were implemented.

In the 1980s, Linda Jewell designed the landscape of the Lake in Duke Gardens, along with the Asiatic Arboretum.

Perhaps the most significant event for the evolution of the main campus was the introduction Laurie Olin to Duke. He (as part of the Hanna Olin firm) designed the landscape associated with the building designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes for the Fuqua School. This began a relationship between Duke and Olin that continues today.


Jewell and her firm continued their work in Duke gardens - adding to the design of the Asiatic Arboretum and creating the plan for the Blomquist Garden.

In the mid-1990s, Olin produced the first comprehensive plan for the Duke landscape since the Olmsteds. His Conceptual Landscape Structure Plan proposed standards for site furniture, patterns for streetscapes and general rules for adapting the landscape to help create a more cohesive and structured campus environment. His early concept design for an oval as a unifying factor in the increasingly urbanized medical center survived through various later planning initiatives and was ultimately constructed. Olin was also engaged as part of a panel of respected architects, designers and planners brought to Duke to advise the Senior Administration on how best to move forward with master planning efforts.

Major landscapes added during this decade include the LSRC Quad and Putnam Garden, designed by the Boston landscape architect Carol Johnson, and the landscape around the Sanford Institute, by George Stanziale of Haden Stanziale. Stanziale was also part of the team led by Caesar Pelli to create new facilities in the Athletics precinct. Important to this was the creation of Krzyzewskiville, which is now one of the most iconic open spaces on campus.

In the late 1990s, planner/architect Lee Copeland and landscape architect Jeff Benesi began work on Duke’s first master plan since Trumbauer and Olmsted Brother’s original plan. The 2000 Master Plan set the principles and goals for what would become the largest period of growth for the campus since its initial construction. Principles such as “Duke is University in the Forest” and “Duke is Collection of Memorable Places” put an increased emphasis on the landscape – both designed and natural – and guided the design of all future projects.   


The first decade of the 2000s at Duke saw the build-out of much of the campus master plan. Various landscape architects were brought in to design new landscapes in accordance with the master plan.

Olin continued his involvement with Duke in several ways. His design for the French Science Center created a dramatic new landscape for the campus. His work included planning studies for future improvements along Science Drive and the area adjacent to the Bryan Center. His design for the landscape surrounding a proposed building for the Nicholas School (never built) helped Duke to better articulate goals for creating sustainable landscapes and included planning for other streetscape and circulation improvements near the site. Towards the end of the decade, he was hired to develop plans for major open spaces in the Medical Center that helped to establish important campus-wide connectivity goals, as well as realizing his earlier vision for a unifying open space. Olin was also hired to evaluate the quality of Duke’s landscape, and to provide insight into how it can be improved.

Glenn Allen (Hargreaves Associates) created one of the most unique and celebrated spaces on Duke’s campus: the West Campus Plaza. This project established the patterns and design criteria for what has been expanded into a major student-focused precinct. Allen also worked with Duke on the extensive planning for a new Central Campus. Working alongside the architects David Manfredi, Caesar Pelli and Adam Gross, he created a landscape fabric that would tie together the various proposed buildings in the plan.

Other landscape architects making a contribution to the Duke landscape during this time include Warren Byrd with Nelson Byrd Woltz (Doris Duke Center master plan and East/West Garden in Duke Gardens), Michael Vergason (Central Campus planning and the landscape at the Law School), Roger Courtney with EDAW (CIEMAS/Engineering Quad), Walt Havener with Lappas and Havener (Bostock Library/Pedestrianway, Nasher Museam and Fuqua), Sam Reynolds (Yoh Football and extensive improvements within Duke Gardens), and Stanziale (Keohane Quad and Rubenstein Hall).


After a slow period following the economic downturn in 2008, Duke accelerated its design and construction in the early 2010s.

Gary Hilderbrand (Reed Hilderbrand) joined a design/planning team looking at the development of Duke’s New Campus. He oversaw the major planning effort from the landscape perspective, proposing major landscape initiatives that would create a “third quad” for the campus. He also led a comprehensive planning effort looking at the feasibility of relocating the historic Campus Drive in order to create a more cohesive campus on which to build. He is now working on the design of an Arts Building that will be the first project on the New Campus site.

Hilderbrand has also produced restoration plans for both historic quadrangles: East and West, with West Campus Quad currently moving forward. In association with this, he is working on both the West Campus Union and Perkins Library renovation projects, and providing consistency to the design of the entire landscape in that precinct. His work on the Penn Pavilion and planning for Union Drive and Page Auditorium/Chapel Garden has helped to ensure the entire core of West Campus will be designed in a manner that is both consistent and of the highest quality. He also designed the landscape for K4 Residence Hall.

Warren Byrd designed another important project that is currently under construction: a 6-acre Stormwater Reclamation Pond that highlights Duke’s ongoing commitment to being an environmental steward. The new landscape will help to maximize the ecosystem benefits of Duke’s natural resources and reinforce the master plan goal of creating memorable places on campus.

Other current and recent projects include Trent Semans Esplanade and Student Health and Wellness Center (Stanziale), the transformation of the Athletics Precinct (Havener), and an ecological assessment of the Chapel Woods by Jose Almiñana (Andropogon Associates). Sarah Duke Gardens is also adding a Japanese Garden (designed by Sada Uchiyama) and a Chinese Garden (by Mahan Rykiel), and will soon be undertaking a new planning effort for their main entry.