Duke Student Wellness Center

Architect: Duda|Paine Architects

Owner: Duke University

Location: Durham, North Carolina

Category: Built - more than $25 million (construction cost)

This project advances Duke University’s student health by consolidating the school’s medical and psychological services under one roof. Placed strategically between the campus’ residential, student service, and athletic districts, the wellness center offers holistic care in the form of a pharmacy, preventative programs, and physical therapy. Overall, the project helped the university achieve its goal of reaching the highest standards of clinical care while connecting with nature and providing open space for its community.

Visitors are greeted by the center’s three-story lobby that stretches into the adjacent Duke Forest. Blurring the lines between indoors and out, the lobby functions as a student living room where natural light and open spaces help bolster the psychological and physiological state of all who enter. Nearby, a monumental stair runs along a translucent wall that spans all three levels and highlights the intersection of prevention, intervention, and social interaction. The center features a number of contemplative spaces, providing students with opportunities to find peace and relaxation. Since its completion, the school has noted an increase in the number of students seeking services as well as an increase in the center’s popularity as a place to study.

“The siting is elegant and the building is embedded in the student circulation path. It is encouraging to see a wellness center given such prominence in the campus plan. Each floor has a living room where students can gather, and the grand stair encourages walking.” Jury comment

The center’s combination of wooden superstructure, open views, ample natural light, and river rock flooring help foster a strong bond with nature. To respect and preserve the adjacent woods, the center’s footprint was reduced by more than 6,000 square feet. Chestnut white oaks harvested on-site were milled into veneer and transformed into panels used as custom desks and reception walls throughout. On-site timbers were hewn into large-scale benches—the longest at 20 feet—and placed along the lobby-level rock garden and in other interior spaces.

“The transparent screens and glazing are an elegant solution, and the wood is very warm and inviting...the use of outdoor vocabulary like logs was very interesting, and vertical gestures recall the Duke Forest.” - Jury comment

Additional information

Project team

Architect: Duda|Paine Architects

Interior Architect: Duda|Paine Architects

Consultant - Student Health: MHTN Architects

Engineer - Civil, Structural: Stewart, Inc.

Engineer - MEP: Newcomb & Boyd

Landscape Architect: Stewart, Inc.


Ralph Johnson, FAIA (Chair), Perkins+Will

Curtis Fentress, FAIA, Fentress Architects

Tushar Gupta, FAIA, EYP Architects & Engineers

Carl Hampson, AIA, SRG Partnership

Claudine LeVan, AIA, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children

Sean A. Menogan, The UCHealth System

William Roger, FAIA, HOK

Image credits

Building exterior

Robert Benson Photography

grand stair

Robert Benson Photography

outdoor spaces

Robert Benson Photography

Lobby at dusk

Robert Benson Photography

East elevation at night

Robert Benson Photography